“We’re seeing tumours I believed only existed in history books”

The corona crisis is having a major impact on other fields of health too: in April only half the usual number of cancers were detected.  Many check-ups had to be cancelled and even today patients are postponing appointments.

Oncologist Gert De Meerleer is sounding the alarm: “We are now having to try and cure advanced tumours.  Therapies are more complex, more expensive and harder on patients.  We will see the impact in the long-term: there will be higher cancer mortality rates”.

Non-essential medical appointments were cancelled during the lockdown.  Preventative cancer screening too was suspended.  Even in May patients stayed away, worried about catching coronavirus in a medical setting. After coronavirus cases tailed off many people renewed their appointments, but during the present spike there have once again been many cancellations.

Gert De Meerleer is head of radiotherapy and oncology at Leuven University Hospital and says many colleagues are concerned they don’t always have the space to provide quick and immediate care.

“In recent weeks I saw tumours that I believed only existed in the medical history books.  Oncologists are having to treat breast tumours that are far larger than usual.  Other colleagues complain about a lack of patients. Often necessary screenings and follow-up care have been cancelled”.

“The later you find a tumour, the more difficult it is to treat.  Most tumours can be controlled for many years.”

Gert De Meerleer is also concerned about the mental strain on colleagues, who say they are losing patients they simply should not be losing. He asks the authorities to point out that in life there is more than just coronavirus.  He also has a message for patients: don’t postpone check-ups and follow-up care.

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