Cancer, the next pandemic
Cancer affects millions of people around the world and has become one of the first causes of death. With the world’s population progressively aging and lifestyles becoming more and more sedentary, cancer has turned into a worldwide pandemic.
One type of cancer that is gaining ground is colorectal cancer, the most common in the world and the second most common in developed countries. Approximately, 1 out of 20 people will develop colorectal cancer at some point in their lives, there are currently 2 million new cases detected yearly around the world and, sadly, it only has a 50% five-year survival rate.
Colorectal cancer is developed from an abnormal growth of the cells that develop the colon or the rectus. This often begins with a small growth called adenomatous polyp, which overtime can become a malignant tumor. Risk factors for colorectal cancer include age, family history in colorectal cancer, a diet rich in red and processed meat, and excessive alcohol consumption.
Colorectal cancer has more than a 90% five-year survival rate if diagnosed in its early stages
Early detection is key for successful treatment in colorectal cancer. In fact, this type of cancer has more than a 90% five-year survival rate if diagnosed in its early stages, but this rate drops to only 13% if detected late. Therefore this is why occidental countries have a very active testing policy through fecal occult blood, one of the symptoms of adenomatous growth. From there, if a patient tests positive, they are scheduled an appointment for a colonoscopy, which is one of the ways in which doctors can examine the interior of the colon and the rectus with a thin tube that has a camera attached to its end.
So, where exactly is the issue here? The problem lies in the fact that “the other” pandemic, the SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 pandemic, has had a great impact on medical attention, including colorectal cancer testing. Many detection programs have been suspended or delayed due to the need to reduce exposure to COVID-19 infected patients in hospitals and health centers. Furthermore, many people have avoided scheduling routine checkups for fear of being exposed to the virus. This is causing important delays in the diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer, which, without a doubt, has a negative impact on the survival of the patient.
Besides the interruption of testing and the reduction of routine appointments, the COVID-19 pandemic has also affected colorectal cancer patients in other ways. Some patients have had to postpone or cancel surgeries due to the necessity to allocate hospital beds to COVID-19 patients. Other patients have also had issues when accessing therapies and follow-up appointments because of the travel restrictions and lack of resources. And furthermore, some patients have been diagnosed with a more advanced disease resulting from this delay in testing and treatment.
All in all, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on testing, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer, that is why it has received the unfortunate title of “the new pandemic”. Finally, healthcare authorities should immediately double their testing efforts to try and minimize the rise of cases, as well as invest in new diagnostic techniques more effective than the colonoscopy itself.
Ignasi Belda CEO MiWEndo Solutions