According to a new study out of the University of Birmingham (England), one in seven cancer patients around the world missed out on potentially life-saving surgeries due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
The study spanned 20,000 patients across 61 countries, and analyzed data from the 15 most common cancer types. The findings were published in The Lancet Oncology, a peer-reviewed research and review journal.
During full lockdowns, which affected different countries in different ways and during different timeframes, fifteen percent of cancer patients needing surgery did not receive their planned operation. Frail patients, those with advanced cancer, and those waiting surgery in lower-middle income countries were all less likely to have the cancer operation they urgently needed.
Mr. James Glasbey, co-lead author from the University of Birmingham, said that the systems around elective surgery need strengthening.
“Our research reveals the collateral impact of lockdowns on patients awaiting cancer surgery during the pandemic. Whilst lockdowns are critical to saving lives and reducing the spread of the virus, ensuring capacity for safe elective cancer surgery should be part of every country’s plan to ensure continued health across the whole population.
“In order to prevent further harm during future lockdowns, we must make the systems around elective surgery more resilient—protecting elective surgery beds and operating theater space, and properly resourcing ‘surge’ capacity for periods of high demand on the hospital, whether that is COVID, the flu or other public health emergencies.”
The research team also commented that they hope this data will help inform governments when making decisions about whether to prolong or reduce restrictions during a public health crisis.
The effects of lockdowns span much further than just infection rates, as this study illustrates. Deliberately altering any economy creates a ripple effect like a stone being tossed into a still pond, and the outward motion of those ripples should be carefully considered, not just the closest, most obvious ripple in the middle.