Some UK patients have been advised not to have chemotherapy or radiotherapy to treat cancer due to the risk of them catching coronavirus in hospital. This comes just two days after NHS England insisted cancer treatment would not be affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Cancer patients are on the list of those most at risk of suffering complications should they catch the coronavirus.
The risk of them catching the disease in hospital is said to outweigh the chances of the treatment being a success.
Cancer sufferers have a severely weakened immune system, and treatment would deteriorate their immune system further.
Doctors have been told by NHS England to prepare for a “disruption of services” in cancer units over the next few weeks and now treatment is being sorted into different levels of priority.
The disruption of services is expected due to staff sickness and shortages of drugs and equipment.
They have been advised to group their patients into “priority levels” according to how crucial or effective the treatment is likely to be.
Anyone whose chemotherapy or radiotherapy is expected to save their life – rather than just extend it or reduce symptoms – should be a priority one or two.
Patients needing emergency surgery will also be in these top two categories.
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However, those whose chemotherapy or radiotherapy is being used to extend their lives or just reduce symptoms should be put in a priority level of four to six.
According to the NHS patients needing surgery but who can wait ten to 12 weeks with “no predicted negative outcome” should be priority three.
The longer the delay for any form of treatment – surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy – the greater the chance the tumour will grow and spread.
Chemotherapy relies on administering aggressive doses of drugs over a short period of time.
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However, The Royal College of Radiologists have said decisions are being made on a case-by-case basis.
Concerned patients and families have been urged to contact their oncologists and discuss the best course of action.
NHS England previously insisted cancer treatment would not be affected by the pandemic.
This was just two days ago when it announced plans to suspend all non-urgent surgery, including hip, knee and cataract treatment.
However, not all hospitals are being forced to make such agonizing decisions on cancer treatment.
Many hospitals have not yet seen a significant increase in coronavirus cases.
Nonetheless, some cancer units in London, the South East and the North East are already advising patients to delay treatment.
The guidance from NHS England, which was sent to doctors on Tuesday, states: “Patients will want to discuss with their clinicians whether the risks of beginning or continuing their cancer treatment could outweigh the benefits, given that many patients receiving systemic therapies in particular are more at risk of becoming seriously unwell if they contract the coronavirus infection.”
Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head information nurse, said: “Your specialist might want to discuss the possibility of delaying treatment in some situations, if they felt the risks outweighed the benefits.”
The decision to delay treatment has left many families distraught.
Dr Janet Ward, an independent scholar, said on social media: “My husband has been told today that his chemotherapy treatment is being cancelled. He only goes once a month and had four months left. Reason is too vulnerable while under treatment. No choice given to us. I am distraught.”
This comes as over 2,000 people have tested positive for the virus in the UK so far, with cases soaring day-by-day.
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