World Cancer Day: 47% drop in women Cancer screening due to COVID fear

Miracles Mediclinic saw 47% drop in women screening for early detection of breast cancer in 2020. Of all cervical cancer patients seen in a month, in only 30-40 % cases cervical cancer is timely detected and only 25% women are aware about the disease and preventive care measures for the same

New Delhi: Owing to the lockdown restrictions and subsequent fear of infection, most of the people in India have been avoiding visiting hospitals for regular screening. Doctors say that such fear of getting infected by COVID-19 on visiting hospitals is unfounded but skipping regular medical screening can cause an overall rise of 20 percent in preventable gynaecological cancers such as cervical cancer.
“As per the National Cancer Institute, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (NCI-AIIMS) estimates, one woman in India dies of cervical cancer in every 8 minutes. Since 2016, India has seen an addition of 1 lakh new cases of cervical cancer every year. It is very sad as cervical cancer is a completely preventable disease through routine pap smear tests, getting vaccinated against human papillomavirus, which can also cause a rare vaginal cancer, and practising safe sex and personal hygiene. In fact, most of the gynaecological cancers are preventable with the help of awareness about symptoms and timely diagnosis that includes routine screening as women in India are still hesitant to seek help for problems pertaining to their intimate parts. Regular screening is the best way to keep a tab on gynaecological health but the fear of COVID-19 virus has pushed them away from this tool to prevent cancers – at Miracles, we have seen a drop in cancer screening which can increase the number of affected women,” says Dr Veenu Aggarwal, Consultant, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Miracles Mediclinic & Apollo Cradle Hospital, Gurugram.
Gynaecological cancer refers to development of cancer or tumour cells in the reproductive organs of a woman’s body. The most common forms are uterine cancer, cervical cancer, and ovarian cancer while vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, and gestational trophoblastic tumour are the relatively rare cancers. Doctors add that they are also wary of the potential rise in breast cancer in women due to a smaller number of women coming for screening than before COVID-19 pandemic.
“Cervical cancer has an extensive pre-cancerous period, usually 10 to 15 years which offers plenty of time to detect and treat it effectively. If the pre-malignant conditions are detected early then, it is possible to treat the disease completely. However, the unfortunate part is that in India, there is a severe lack of awareness and stigma associated with the invasive nature of cervical cancer screening. The lack of screening and vaccination efforts is another reason behind the high number of cervical cancer cases in the country. Even though the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine has been included in the Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP), it is still not a part of the National Immunisation Programme. The IAP has approved two vaccines that are being used in private clinics. However, the cost and lack of awareness is a big obstacle to its widespread adoption. Of all cervical cancer patients seen in a month, in only 30-40 % cases it is timely detected. Also, we have seen that only 25% women are aware about the disease and preventive care measures for the same”, said Dr (Col.) R. Ranga Rao, Chairman, Paras Cancer Centre, Paras Healthcare.
“Presently, the standard screening procedure included in the national programme for prevention and control of non-communicable diseases like cancer involves cervix staining with acetic acid followed by visual inspection, and examination of the smear collected in cases that show discoloration. However, this procedure comes with two major setbacks – first, lack of skilled clinicians to conduct the examination and collect the specimen, and secondly, the shame, embarrassment, and stigma associated with the examination” said Dr. Aditi Aggarwal, Senior Consultant, Radiation Oncology, Paras Hospitals.