As Rishi Kapoor & Irfaan Pass Away, Cancer Patients Are Struggling

For cancer patients in the time of pandemic, it’s a daily struggle for survival.

3 min read
Both Irfaan Khan and Rishi Kapoor lost their battle to cancer. Other cancer patients are also suffering in the times of COVID-19 lockdowns.

When your most beloved actors pass away, within a span of a day, the loss feels personal. You didn't know them, but they inhabited your world. In the times of pandemic, the loss hits harder.

Both Rishi Kapoor and Irfaan fought a tough battle against serious illnesses. Rishi Kapoor battled leukemia and was believed to be cancer free. Irfaan fought against a tough diagnosis of neuroendocrine tumour. Both sought treatments abroad, in New York and London respectively.

Lately, both were home, believed to be in recovery.

A pandemic, followed by a lockdown, has forced thousands of cancer patients and oncologists to fight daily mental trauma. With elective surgeries on hold, cancer treatment and consultation is largely happening online for those who can access it.

For patients in a more severe stage of the disease, its a harsh choice. A new study published on 28 April now points out just how dangerous COVID-19 can be for some cancer patients.

COVID-19 and Cancer

The study published in the journal Cancer Discovery, has found that those with blood cancer, lung malignancies and tumours that have spread throughout the body, have a higher risk of complications or death from COVID-19.

105 cancer patients and 536 non cancer patients with COVID-19 were studied across 14 hospitals in the Hubei province of China, where the virus first emerged. The result was disturbing - cancer patients had nearly 3 times higher death rate and were more likely to have a severe event, requiring ventilator support.

In blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma - the cancer attacks the immune system, making the patient's ability to fight new infections that much harder. For lung cancer patients, reduced lung function makes them more vulnerable.

The stage of cancer also matters. If you are at an early stage of the disease, your chances are the same as any other patient. But for those who may have recovered, the risk remains high.

For Doctors, a Daily Dilemma

In an earlier story done by FIT, we spoke with several cancer patients and their families. We also spoke with oncologists on how they are managing their patients.

“Right now, private hospitals are functioning at 1/8th, 1/10th their normal capacity and almost 74% of cancer in this country is delivered through the private sector,” said Dr Sameer Kaul, an oncologist surgeon at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi.

"Cancer is very case-specific, and there are many types of cancers that require different treatment and attention. For example, it is very difficult to stop chemotherapy for childhood leukaemia patients without risking fatalities. Bone marrow cancer patients are also “completely vulnerable,” says Dr Kaul.

According to The Lancet, “different cancers produce immune suppression to different extents. Blood cancers often directly compromise the immune system, so those patients are probably most at risk, whereas cancers such as colon cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer do not typically cause immune suppression that is not treatment-related.”

A doctor at a government hospital in Mumbai who wishes to stay anonymous tells FIT that often the strategy is of treating the easier patients, “like less complicated surgeries, breast cancer patients,” rather than the more critical ones as those would use more of the hospitals' resources this time and may expose the patient to COVID-19 if it gets worse.

It is a tough choice being made every day in hospitals and homes. Coupled with shortage of drugs, access to cancer centers, lack of focused clinical trials in cancer (many have been suspended), depleting funds, cancer patients are left with limited options.

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