The slow return to normality does not cancel the indirect damage left by the pandemic on the health of citizens and in particular on those who already suffered from a disease, starting with cancer patients. The numbers are a slap in the face that leaves no doubt that we must run in order not to risk losing the many steps forward that oncology has made in recent decades in a year and a half of health emergency.
Across Europe, under-diagnoses of cancer totaled 1 million since the start of the pandemic. An increase in the number of new cases is also expected, which could grow by 21% by 2040. The interruptions in medical examinations, recorded in 2020-21, will have consequences above all in terms of cancers identified at a more advanced stage. Furthermore, also due to lockdowns, some wrong lifestyles are even more widespread. Urgent issues that require a quick change in the agenda of the fight against cancer.
This was underlined by the Italian Association of Medical Oncology (Aiom), on the occasion of the launch of the 2021 Congress of the ESMO (European Society for Medical Oncology). The event takes place entirely online and sees the participation of over 19,000 specialists from all over the world.
Bad lockdown habits
Social isolation and smartworking have favored the spread of lifestyles that are enemies of health. Over 10 million citizens, equal to 18% of those over 14, smoke regularly. 16% consume excessive doses of alcohol every day and as many as 35% of adults do not practice any physical activity or sport. While 46% are overweight and 10% even obese. “It is necessary to reiterate to citizens, of all age groups, the importance of healthy lifestyles and adherence to screening programs. A strong relaunch of primary and secondary cancer prevention is necessary”, he urges Giordano Beretta, Aiom national president.
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Prevention that rewards health
Oncologists are concerned that the constant health emergency of Coronavirus continues to have negative long-term effects on various health systems, diverting human and economic resources from other medical-scientific fields. “The best investment for the future – continues Beretta – is to promote prevention as much as possible. Over 40% of all cancer cases can be avoided by following simple rules, known but not always respected. As a Scientific Society we have always been involved in educational initiatives aimed at the general public and not just medical specialists. In the coming months we will launch new national campaigns with the aim of improving awareness of cancer risk among all citizens “.
Turbocharging the screenings
In fact, even before the outbreak of the pandemic in 2019, the adherence rates to cancer screening were very low. “The percentages – he points out Saverio Cinieri, president-elect Aiom – stood at 53% for breast cancer, 38% for cervical cancer and 40% for colorectal cancer. There are, however, strong differences between the various territories. For example, in some Southern Regions the adhesion rate to the search for occult blood in the faeces is only 5%. The data are decidedly low and have worsened with the advent of the Coronavirus, since the pandemic has repeatedly interrupted, or in any case made it more difficult, the regular conduct of these tests. The time has come to launch new initiatives throughout the country in favor of secondary cancer prevention as well “.
The consequences that the pandemic has had on the fight against cancer are one of the central themes of this year’s ESMO Congress during which a new study conducted on over 1,500 cancer patients affected by Covid is presented. It has been shown that one in six sufferers have Long-Covid symptoms. The main consequences were: respiratory symptoms (49%), fatigue (41%) and neuro-cognitive problems (7%). “The condition of Long Covid can negatively influence the trend of anticancer treatments – underlines Beretta. We have a new unequivocal demonstration of how the pandemic continues to have consequences on the more than 3 million Italians affected by a form of cancer”.
Yes to the third dose of the anti-Covid vaccine
Precisely to better protect these fragile patients, oncologists believe it is necessary to strengthen the immune system against the Coronavirus: “There are no certain data on the need for a third dose, but there is no doubt that it is useful because it strengthens the defenses of the immune system. “, explains Beretta. “In fragile patients then in which the response to the first administration may have been lower, it makes it even more useful especially for oncemathological patients and those undergoing chemotherapy. For this reason, for men and women with a tumor – continues Beretta – the third dose of the anti-Covid vaccine must be administered as soon as possible to avoid further complications and risks “. And Saverio Cinieri adds: “We must not forget that this year the flu has been subdued because the use of masks has reduced its spread, but for fragile patients it is essential to get vaccinated in order to distinguish the influenza virus infection from that from Covid-19. In addition, the patient is covered from a viral point of view and health policy is implemented. The real problem – concludes Cinieri – is the timing. Currently it is advisable to administer the anti-flu vaccination at a distance of two weeks compared to that of Covid “.