Cancer surgeries at AIIMS witness 30% drop amid pandemic peak

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Cancer surgeries at AIIMS witness 30% drop amid pandemic peak
ArrayNew Delhi: The arrival of Covid-19 pandemic in March last year left thousands of cancer patients – both within and those coming from outside the national capital – without early medical intervention and timely treatment of the disease since most of the tertiary care hospitals were converted into dedicated Covid care facilities.

At a time when super speciality hospitals had to completely restrict their cancer care services, the treatment at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi continued, albeit, with a significant drop.

Dr Rakesh Garg, Additional Professor, Onco Anesthesia and palliative medicine, AIIMS, said that barring one or two weeks, the treatment of cancer patients continued in the hospital.

The data by the apex institution’s dedicated cancer institute–Institute of Rotary Cancer Hospital–showed that it realised 29 per cent of drop in Cancer surgeries in the pandemic year compared to 2019.

As per the data, the institute performed 1592 surgeries in 2019 while 1135 surgeries happened in 2020. The major drop was witnessed in certain kinds of cancer surgeries like Gynae, Soft-Tissue Sarcoma and Gastrointestinal, where more than 50% drop in surgeries were witnessed.

However, the institute witnessed a marginal drop in the surgeries of Breast Cancer.

The data showed that most of the surgeries conducted by the institute in both the years of comparison was of breast cancer. In 2019, the institute performed 449 surgeries of breast cancer while in 2020, 426 such surgeries took place.

Besides, certain departments also showed a higher number of surgeries in the pandemic year than 2019. Skin cancer surgeries conducted in 2020 stood at 33 compared to 2019 when 32 such surgeries were performed. Interestingly, surgeries of metastatic diseases showed improvement in 2020 where 105 such surgeries took place against 88 surgeries performed in 2019.

The data also showed that 426 surgeries were performed between April and November when the national capital suffered three surges of Coronavirus cases.

Speaking to IANS, Dr (Major) MD Ray, said that the institute performed overwhelmingly given the pandemic circumstances. “Many of our staff were inducted in Covid duties which created a shortage of manpower. Besides, our surgeries procedure also slowed down since a chunk of patients turned positive before their surgeries. So we had to treat their Covid first before putting them under the knife,” he said.

As per the data, 42 patients before and after their surgeries tested positive for the Covid-19 at the centre. Meanwhile, Ray also pointed out that many of the staff got infected with the COVID-19 as well, which added to the delay.

As per the data, total 34 healthcare workers at the institute including surgeons, anaesthesists, nursing officers, technicians and others tested positive for the disease between April and November 2020.

“Given all the pandemic restrictions and real-life situations, we did fairly well in treating cancer patients,” Ray commented.

However, the lack of initial care in patients during the Covid enforced lockdown aggravated their cancer status. Many hospitals estimate that 40 per cent of their patients have now gone to stage three of the disease since they could not avail timely treatment.

But the doctors at AIIMS went an extra-mile for their patients to contain the aggressiveness of their cancers since they could not visit the institute due to travel restrictions amid the lockdown. “Our doctors took out records of patients who were on the wait-list of surgeries. We sent them drugs so that their disease does not progress till they are able to come for the surgeries. With this measure, the disease condition in our patients did not turn aggressive,” Ray added.

Meanwhile, Dr Garg said that now the hospitals will have to overwork to provide care to the cancer patients who were left behind while dealing with the pandemic. “Since the Covid cases have seemed to have settled down and services at many hospitals have started to resume, the footfall of the cancer patients would increase at all the tertiary cares more than usual. They all will have to overwork now,” he commented.

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