Welcome back to another blog post. I have not written a blog entry for a long time now, due to being so preoccupied with organising the charity Cancer Education UK during these extremely eventful last five months. However, I have so much content in mind that I intend to write about, so expect more entries soon!
Now, let us talk about how COVID-19 has critically impacted cancer services throughout the UK, and also what this impact means. In my previous post, I emphasised how several treatments have been postponed or cancelled, with most screening programmes also being drastically reduced or halted altogether, to minimise the risk of the disease spreading. Crucial cancer treatment such as chemotherapy was also stopped, due to these patients being of high risk and especially vulnerable, as previous cancer treatment they had received had most probably weakened their immune system.
Subsequently, as a result of COVID-19, new methods to treat cancer have been implemented and taken into effect. For instance, chemotherapy buses have been introduced, in order for treatment to be delivered in a less crowded environment than normal, to minimise the risk of the virus. These buses also provide more convenience for patients since they do not have to travel as far. Likewise, more chemotherapy treatment at home has also been implemented, to further increase the number of patients receiving treatment during the pandemic.
In my view, these new changes will also help to encourage a more individualised care approach, which is something that I’ve previously advocated for.
Additionally, whilst it is unfortunate yet understandable, surgeries have had to be cancelled or prioritised as this carries a greater risk than other treatment options. Equally, surgeries are unable to take place immediately after each other, as the post-surgery recovery process has had to have been altered, with the ICU wards transforming into COVID-19 wards and theatres now being used for surgery recovery.
On the other hand, in regards to radiotherapy, most of these treatments have continued throughout the pandemic, especially within the London hospitals. Although, some radiotherapy centres are experiencing low cancer referrals. This is ultimately due to patients not being able to see their GP and/ or screening services being reduced, meaning less are being diagnosed and referred for treatment.
Yet, adversity does breed creativity. As a result of COVID-19, breast treatments, which usually require about 15 treatment sessions, are now delivered as 5 treatment sessions. Despite being 10 sessions less, both treatments are equivalent as they have the same local control. In a similar way, treatments such as Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy (SABR), which was intended to be in full use by 2022, is being used more now by many radiotherapy centres. SABR is effective for patients with cancer e.g. in the lungs, liver, lymph nodes, and it can also be used for patients that have had previous treatment.
Essentially, it delivers a high dose of radiation to the tumour in less treatment sessions than conventional methods.
Fundamentally, reducing the amount of treatment sessions means a reduced risk of COVID-19 to already vulnerable cancer patients. Moreover, reducing the amount of sessions most importantly helps to reduce the psychological effects of treatment, i.e. the emotional trauma which treatment brings for patients.
Overall, I believe that COVID-19 has had some beneficial effect; it has pushed our healthcare sector to be more innovative, having to act quicker in making life-saving decisions whilst reducing the risk to both patients and staff. Significantly, without COVID-19 and its impact, these decisions would have been prolonged and we would be without these much-needed improvements.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed my post.