Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States according to the CDC, after heart disease, with cancer screenings being an important preventative measure to reduce cancer occurrence and death.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic led to a drastic decrease in cancer screenings, including brain tumor detection. While healthcare workers and overall efforts shifted to respond to screening and treating patients with Covid-19, new malignant cancer diagnoses decreased by 65.2% in April 2020, according to the clinical report “Effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Cancer-Related Patient Encounters.”
In addition, results from original research first published in Oncology showed a large increase in cancelled oncologic care from 2019 to 2020. According to the study, clinic, lab, and surgical visit cancellations increased by 4.2%, 4.84% and 5.22%, respectively.
As the pandemic endures with the Covid-19 Delta variant, healthcare specialists predict that more delayed and skipped cancer screenings and/or treatments will lead to poorer health outcomes and an increase in late-stage cancer diagnoses in the years to come. The healthcare community at large must encourage patients to schedule routine cancer screenings to detect precancerous lesions and other cancers at their earliest stages, when they are more easily treatable.
When a patient is facing an aggressive disease like brain cancer, timely treatment is essential. Healthcare providers must communicate the urgency of treatment and work with patients to develop a plan to limit exposure risk. In the case of aggressive brain tumors, for example, the standard of care is surgery, followed by radiation and in many cases, chemotherapy. However, traditional radiation treatment requires patients to travel to and from the treatment facility multiple times, for tumor resection and up to six weeks of daily external beam radiation therapy (EBRT).
There are two alternatives to EBRT that have the potential to reduce the risk of exposure:
- Hypofractionated or stereotactic radiotherapy, which is the delivery of fewer, larger doses over a shorter period of time, so the patient has fewer overall EBRT appointments.
- Surgically Targeted Radiation Therapy (STaRT), which provides immediate radiation treatment at the time of tumor resection via implantation of a bioresorbable, radioactive source in the surgical bed. This treatment option eliminates the need for EBRT and associated appointments altogether.
During these uncertain times, remember to proactively reach out to patients and encourage them to resume routine cancer screenings to prevent delayed diagnoses that might lead to worsened health outcomes, and to explore all options to limit exposure to patients undergoing cancer treatment.
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