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Missed cancer surgery figures are ‘wake-up call’ for healthcare systems

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One in seven cancer patients around the world missed out on potentially life-saving operations during pandemic lockdowns, says Aneel Bhangu.

A new study revealing one in seven cancer patients around the world have missed out on potentially life-saving operations during COVID-19 lockdowns is a wake-up call for national healthcare systems, says Aneel Bhangu, Senior Lecturer in Surgery at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences and a Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at University Hospital Birmingham.

Published by the Lancet, the recent study aimed to identify immediate areas for system strengthening by comparing the delivery of elective cancer surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic in periods of lockdown versus light restriction.

Bhangu said: “While lockdowns have been necessary for mitigating the spread of COVID-19, the collateral impact on cancer patients globally has been significant. Early detection and treatment is the key to beating cancer deaths and any delays can be potentially very serious for patient outcomes.

“Over the last decade, healthcare systems around the world have ploughed huge sums of money into increasing early detection and treatment rates so it is disappointing to see so much hard work impeded by COVID-19.

“This study is a wake-up call for national healthcare systems and it is vital now, as we emerge from the pandemic, to ensure cancer detection and treatment remains a priority and we take measures to reorganise and protect elective surgeries and operating theatre spaces against future crises.

“It is pertinent that healthcare systems everywhere, including in the Gulf region, carefully consider surgical services as they ‘build back better from the pandemic.”   

Bhangu is also the Global Chief Investigator of the COVIDSurg Collaborative, which has led an international research response for surgery in the COVID era. This group has produced multiple high-impact research papers, including within the Lancet, leading to one of the highest Altmetric scores for a surgical paper.

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