As cancer patients struggle in the face of a pandemic, their tumors grow larger

cancer patients
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Kathleen Morley claims that doctors were supposed to be monitoring her 76-year-old mother’s small, benign lung nodule when Ontario declared its first COVID-19 lockdown and postponed many non-essential medical treatments.

Her annual CT scan in February of this year revealed that what had been a tiny nodule had grown into metastatic lung cancer during the year of delay. Morley believes that if her mother, Joyce, had been diagnosed earlier, she could have been cured with a simple lobectomy.

However, this is no longer the case. Joyce Kohut’s cancer has progressed to the point where she requires bone radiation and aggressive chemotherapy – a more invasive treatment.

Morley’s mother is not alone herself. COVID-19 protected many Canadians from being diagnosed with cancer too early, which would have resulted in worse outcomes and more intrusive treatments if their care had not been delayed. Doctors warn that this can prolong healing durations, complicate treatment, and disrupt people’s lives.

The COVID-19 epidemic has resulted in an estimated 15.9 million surgeries backlog in Ontario alone, which includes diagnostic exams, screenings, and other medical treatments that could have been conducted.

The government directed hospitals to postpone non-urgent treatments during the pandemic’s first wave, and again this spring, to keep beds free as COVID-19 cases increased. To catch up on the backlog, Ontario Health reports a 94% rise in Priority 2 cancer surgeries for those treating non-life threatening cancer between March 15, 2020, and July 25, 2021.

The Ontario government has announced $324 million as part of its surgical recovery plan to assist hospitals work at 115% capacity, perform up to 67,000 more procedures, and provide 135,000 more hours of diagnostic imaging than would otherwise be possible. Other provinces, including Quebec and Manitoba, are also suffering from backlogs; experts warn that this is a national issue.