Doctors admit that fewer cancers are being diagnosed because of Covid-19

The speed of performing diagnostic tests is key in cancer treatments.
The speed of performing diagnostic tests is key in cancer treatments. / EFE
  • The two large public hospitals in Malaga saw 243 fewer cases of breast tumours in 2020 than the previous year

The coronavirus pandemic is not only affecting people who catch the virus, but it is also having a negative impact on other patients, including people with cancer.

The two large public hospitals in Malaga - the Regional and the Clínico Virgen de la Victoria - saw 243 fewer cases of women with breast cancer last year than in 2019. They are also receiving people with digestive tumours in more advanced stages which affects the chances of recovery.

The head of the medical oncology service of the Regional Hospital and member of the Spanish Cancer Association (AECC), Antonio Rueda, told SUR that from one year to another there may be a fluctuation of more or less 80 cases of breast cancer, but not 243. Therefore, the fact that fewer women with a breast tumour were seen at the Regional and the Clínico hospitals in 2020 must be directly related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Rueda explained that he believes the number of women who have attended gynaecological examinations and who have had mammograms has decreased for fear of catching the virus.

In reference to the more advanced stage in which patients with digestive tumours arrive at consultations, Dr Rueda said that there were people who, especially in the first wave of the pandemic, stayed at home with symptoms and did not go to the doctor for fear of contracting Covid.

"Doctors recommend that when there is any suspicion of a tumour, you should not hesitate to go to a health centre. Once the diagnosis is made, cancer patients do not experience delays in the treatments they need. The cancer operating rooms are functioning normally in this third wave as in the previous two," said Rueda.

Another issue attributable to the pandemic is that both in the first wave and in the third, the number of patients admitted to the medical oncology ward of the Regional Hospital has dropped. If there are usually 18 patients on average, now there are five, a number similar to that of the first pandemic wave in March and April.

"I do not know the impact that this third wave of Covid will have on cancer patients, especially in diagnoses; it all depends on how long it lasts. If it is prolonged, there will be more problems," said Dr Rueda.

The president of the provincial board of the AECC, Francisco Aguilar, said: "Cancer patients are the major victims of this pandemic. Cancer was here before Covid-19 and it will be after."

In the private healthcare system the head of the general surgery and digestive system department of the Quirónsalud Málaga Hospital, César Ramírez, said that it is estimated that two out of 10 cases of cancer have not been diagnosed due to to Covid in 2020.

"This 20-30 per cent drop in the number of diagnoses will be reflected in a worse prognosis for these patients and could result in a 10 per cent increase in mortality in one or two years. This is explained because in tumours such as stomach or pancreatic, which progress very quickly, a delay of two or three months in diagnosis means a loss of opportunity for treatment," Ramírez said.