According to a preliminary study, fear of the coronavirus is keeping patients diagnosed with mesothelioma and other cancers away from healthcare services, and that is likely to result in an increase in their death rates in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Based on current statistics, the study’s authors anticipate almost 34,000 excess cancer deaths in the U.S., and over 6,000 excess deaths in England.
Increased Deaths in Mesothelioma and Other Cancer Patients Expected
According to Alvina Lai, PhD, University College London, the number of deaths among mesothelioma patients and other cancer patients may be from their original disease or from the coronavirus, but one way or another the numbers are going to rise significantly. “The recorded underlying cause of these excess deaths may be cancer, COVID-19 or comorbidity (such as myocardial infarction),” she writes. “Our data have highlighted how cancer patients with multimorbidity are a particularly at-risk group during the current pandemic.”
Though the study has not yet undergone peer review, physicians treating mesothelioma patients and other cancer patients have acknowledged the basic truths addressed in the study, and say that the issue bears further analysis.
Adherence to Treatment Protocols Falls in Mesothelioma Patients, Other Cancer Patients
Experts say that much of the COVID-19 impact on patients with mesothelioma and other cancers will come from a lack of adherence to treatment regimens. Says Chris Bunce, PhD, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, “COVID-19-related impacts will cost lives,” and Kevin McConway, PhD, professor emeritus of applied statistics, the Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom said,”It’s well known that there have been considerable changes in the provision of health care for many conditions, including cancers, as a result of all the measures to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.”
McConway went on to say, “It seems inevitable that there will be increased deaths in cancer patients if they are infected with the virus or because of changes in the health services available to them, and quite possibly also from socio-economic effects of the responses to the crisis. This study is the first that I have seen that produces a reasonably-argued numerical estimate of the number of excess deaths of people with cancer arising from these factors in the UK and the USA.” The study points to declines in attendance at chemotherapy sessions as a specific problem.
The Risks of Infection for Cancer Patients
Patients living with mesothelioma face a number of challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic is yet another. Several factors contribute to a greater risk of any infection in cancer patients:
- Tumors that interfere with the immune system, for instant metastasis to the bone marrow, makes the body less able to fight infections.
- Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can all potentially weaken the immune system. Chemotherapy is most likely to have this effect and is the most common treatment for mesothelioma.
- Immunotherapy, sometimes used in mesothelioma patients, changes how the immune system works.
- Mesothelioma symptoms and the side effects of treatment can impact nutrition. Poor nutrition increases infection risks.
COVID-19 Disrupted Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are essential for advancing the knowledge about mesothelioma, developing better diagnostic tools, and testing effective treatment.
The pandemic shut down many clinical trials to help slow the spread of the disease. Some facilities delayed the start of trials, while others limited participation but kept running them.
By mid-June the number of trials restarting began to increase, but some are still delayed. This is time lost that researchers cannot get back. For mesothelioma patients, clinical trials can be a matter of life or death. They provide the only access to some treatments, and many patients missed out due to the pandemic.
If you have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma or fear that you may be experiencing early symptoms of mesothelioma, it is essential that you get appropriate treatment. For information and resources, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net at 1-800-692-8608.