Why cancer care needs to be put back on the agenda

Covid-19 has made us change many of the expectations we took for granted in medicine. One of them is the way we approach cancer treatments.

Because of coronavirus quite rightly taking the lion’s share of resources, some cancer treatments, including surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, have been shelved, some delayed but others for longer.

This isn’t something that sits easily with doctors and patients. Both want to get back to treatment as usual as soon as possible.

Of course the urgency to treat varies between cancers, but some, the aggressive ones, need rapid attention. And some doctors aren’t waiting. They’re speeding up cancer treatment for aggressive cancers.

One such centre is the Mayo Clinic in the US where Dr Tina Hieken is performing an expedited treatment for breast cancer.

According to Dr Hieken, the faster course of treatment is available to women with certain types of early breast cancer and allows patients to complete their entire treatment, including surgery and radiation therapy, in less than 10 days. Now, that is a game-changer.

The Mayo Clinic is renowned the world over for its uniquely high standard of medical practice.

The expedited breast cancer treatment is a good example of its cutting-edge medical science and its prioritising of patient need.

“Women with small breast cancer tumours and no cancer in their lymph nodes may be able have a lumpectomy in an outpatient procedure,” explains Dr Hieken.

“These patients can leave the operating room the same day as their surgery with a catheter in place, which is used to administer brachytherapy, a form of radiation therapy, post-surgery.”

Dr Sean Park, a Mayo Clinic radiotherapist, adds: “After surgery, patients receive brachytherapy treatment over five week days, twice a day, approximately six hours apart, for a total of 10 treatments.”

The Mayo Clinic has put in place steps to help ensure the health and safety of its patients during the Covid-19 pandemic. Patients for expedited breast cancer treatment can stay near the clinic for two weeks while they’re prepared for and then receive the treatment.

Part of the preparation includes a blood test and nasal swab to test for antibodies to the Covid-19 virus or an active infection.

Once prepared for the treatment, which includes surgery and radio- therapy treatments, it’s completed in less than two weeks.

Don’t I wish we had a branch of the Mayo Clinic here. Cancer can’t wait.