COVID-19 and its impact on cancer care in Asia Pacific?

September 30, 2021
COVID-19 and its impact on cancer care in Asia Pacific?

Cancer patients are a high-priority group vulnerable to severe complications and even death from an unsuspecting COVID-19 infection, no thanks to their compromised immunity from cancer itself. Despite the fear and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 – the incidence of which is thankfully under control in parts of the world, after nearly two years – healthcare professionals recommend cancer patients to continuously monitor their health and proceed with the necessary treatment to ensure their survival.

Cancer is a disease largely attributed to improper mechanisms of cell division and cell aging, which eventually leads to cancers centered in/around the lung, breast, colon, stomach, and liver, among others. According to the National Cancer Institute, US, these cancer cells can even spread to tissues in distant parts of the body to cause further complications. While an effective cure for the many types of cancer is yet unavailable, treatments abound that relieve symptoms and progression of the disease.

At present however, COVID-19 has affected the diagnosis and treatment of cancer worldwide, more so in countries with a developing economy and fewer resources.

An example is the Asia Pacific region, home to 60% of the world’s population. It accounts for about 50% of the total global cancer incidence – a figure that is expected to rise post-pandemic for various reasons. Some parts of this region boast a higher percentage of aged individuals per capita, compared to Europe, which irrefutably increases the risks and incidence of cancer; these same parts in turn, have reported negative reception to treatment of cancer during COVID-19.

The trend in Asia Pacific is reflected in global health data estimates: cancer was seen to be the leading cause of death in Japan and South Korea in 2017, versus a lower incidence in relatively younger populations such as those in India and the Philippines. This is simply because the former demographics have a high proportion of aged individuals who are more susceptible to cancer, regardless of economic status or availability/quality of healthcare systems.

Cancer presents a formidable challenge to healthcare systems across Asia Pacific, as each country needs to cater to specific response(s) to cancer care. A functional healthcare system, in short, is largely dependent on multidisciplinary funding to provide quality care and maintain sustainability; on the other end, health spending will ensure adequate consumption of care – in this case, quality cancer care could potentially be life-changing in regards to cancer survival among patients.

Even though the capacities of healthcare systems in Asia Pacific have been disrupted by the presence of COVID-19, oncologists and healthcare experts still root for cancer prevention and early detection for better management of the disease. One silver lining as a result of COVID-19 is the advancement of telemedicine and personalised therapies for cancer, such that can be offered from standalone cancer treatment centres. These initiatives will undoubtedly encourage patients to go for regular screenings and receive treatment, safely away from the lurking threat of COVID-19. It will also ensure more satisfactory delivery and management of cancer.

And finally, with the amount of health information available for perusal, patients are much encouraged to form a firm understanding of the science and treatments behind cancer and be open to diverse prevention and/or treatment options – health literacy is important at this time to ensure timely and effective interventions as they develop, especially in Asia Pacific.

Read: Covid-19: Navigating cancer during the pandemic

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Category: Features, Top Story

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