Coronavirus Pandemic

Cancer is still the big C, not Covid: UAE doctors

Ashwani Kumar /Dubai Filed on February 4, 2021 | Last updated on February 4, 2021 at 11.24 pm

Cancer is a bigger epidemic than Covid-19 globally if we analyse the data over the past century.

The big 'C' is not Covid-19 but cancer, said a top doctor at a healthcare facility affiliated with Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha).

"Cancer is a bigger epidemic than Covid-19 globally if we analyse the data over the past century. It is the second leading cause of death in the world. We must be proactive in preventing cancer by healthy behaviours and screening. We are now focusing on cancer survivorship as well, which is tremendously important going forward as we make significant strides in cancer cure," said Dr Shahrukh Hashmi, Chair, haematology and oncology department at the Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City.

He said people suffering from cancer are vulnerable to mortality from Covid-19 if their immune system is weaker than expected. "Yes, given they are immunocompromised, they can be at risk of considerable mortality from Covid-19."

Talking about different types of cancer, Dr Hashmi noted that symptoms of lung cancer and Covid-19 infection are difficult to differentiate and hence doctors need to be careful during the primary assessment.

"Covid-19 symptoms are easy to differentiate from cancer. Covid-19 infection usually causes cough, fever, runny nose, headaches and fatigue. Cancers present with a variety of symptoms, including severe weight loss, loss of appetite, change in bowel habits, a growing mass anywhere in the body, example breast. Only in the case of lung cancer symptoms can be confused. We advise general practitioners in primary to pay more attention. Lung cancer can have confusing symptoms, a negative Covid-19 test can help differentiate the case."

Asked if there was a drop in the number of new cases among all cancer types last year compared with 2019, Dr Hashmi said: "There is a presumed notion that some of the cancers may have not been diagnosed early given the pandemic. But the accurate 2020 data on cancer incidence is pending and it is premature to make definitive conclusions."

He noted that making adjustments to the mode of cancer management, telehealth was used efficiently during the pandemic.

"The UAE was a success story when it came to telemedicine in cancer care during the Covid-19 pandemic," he said."Many of the cancers require adjustment of chemotherapy with blood tests. An example is chronic myelogenous leukemia (blood cancer). Patients on oral (by mouth) chemotherapy got blood tests locally, including molecular (genetic) testing for the cancer and if the tests were normal or acceptable, only video visits were done successfully."

Asked if it's safe for cancer patients to opt for surgery and chemotherapy or wait until the pandemic situation eases, Dr Hashmi pointed out: "If surgery or chemotherapy is required, it must not be delayed. There should be no hesitancy in getting appropriate treatment on time for cancer. The outpatient and inpatient cancer units are well equipped with safety precautions of Covid-19 social distancing."


Ashwani Kumar

I am a newspaperman from the emirate of Abu Dhabi. A journalist at heart. I get my stories from the streets. A south Indian born in the Hindi heartland, I easily connect with people from different nationalities and cultures. I am calm like a monk, sensitive and very patient reporter. On the ground, I cover a range of topics related to community, health, embassy, tourism, transport, business and sports. I will go out on a leg to do what’s right and stand by what I believe in.

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