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CodeBlue – 30 August 2021

Late Cancer Diagnosis During Pandemic May Cut Survival, Increase Treatment Cost: Experts
Dr Tho Lye Mun

Late diagnosis of lung cancer due to the Covid-19 epidemic will eventually lead to a reduction in survival years, productivity, and higher treatment cost, experts said. They also noted that the real impact on lung cancer patients can only be seen after a few years, as there is a high tendency for patients to be presented at a much later stage.

Covid-19 played a major role in late diagnosis of cancer in Malaysia, as public health care facilities were forced to redeploy resources, including health care workers and hospital beds to treat coronavirus patients, said Dr Tho Lye Mun, a clinical oncologist and vice president of Lung Cancer Network Malaysia.

“Outpatient appointments have been cancelled. Elective surgeries that needed to be referred to other hospitals are deferred, and certainly, the existing cancer units have come under a lot of pressure,” Dr Tho mentioned in a virtual media forum last Thursday titled “No Patient Left Behind: Improving Lung Cancer Care in Malaysia during Covid-19”.

“So, cases which have not been diagnosed have delayed access to biopsies and diagnostic scans,” he added in the forum organised by the National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM).

At the same time, Dr Tho also noted that cancer patients, or patients who depict cancer symptoms, can be reluctant to seek medical care for fear of contracting the coronavirus in hospital settings.

Dr Tho also highlighted that the National Cancer Patient Registry (NCPR) report, presented every five years, may not provide the impact of Covid-19 on cancer patients for “another few years”.

“Anecdotally, I would say, perhaps more patients are now presenting to us with even more advanced disease than what we used to see pre Covid-19.”

He added that the five-year survival rate for lung cancer patients lags at 11 per cent, compared to 73 per cent for prostate cancer and 67 per cent for breast cancer.

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