(By Catania Conversation) The fear of contracting the virus prompted a drop in the treatments of far more lethal diseases such as cancer and smoking-related cancers. A tragedy within the tragedy that it will be very costly in terms of lives in the coming years.
A recent study among patients from the European Union revealed the current situation is negatively affecting medical care, with about 70% of patients postponing or cancelling health treatments.
About 1/5 of cancer patients opted for alternative therapy due to COVID-19, while nearly half considered changing therapies to avoid contracting the virus in the hospitals.
Furthermore, the slowdown on life-saving cancer treatments – to minimize the risk of infection – generated a huge delay in terms of treatment and research.
“Due to suspension in diagnosis and treatment, a substantial increase in the number of cancer deaths is expected in the coming years” said Prof. Riccardo Polosa, founder of CoEHAR, citing his speech during the European public consultation on cancer.
According to statistics, in the next 5-6 years is expected a significant increase in mortality for the most common cancers, with an increment of at least 3500 deaths.
National health systems weaknesses have been mercilessly uncovered by the pandemic underlining all the limits of national infrastructures. Drastic changes and improvements are due because any future pandemic could cause again protracted health emergencies.
“We must enforce prevention to reduce the burden on health systems and manage risk factors. Governments should commit financial efforts to prevention to increase immunization, promote healthier diets and physical activity, reduce the prevalence of smoking” – Polosa explained.
This is particularly true when it comes to tumours such as lung cancer, where prevention is essential.
In April 2020, an anonymous poll tried to understand the outcomes of the lockdown on Italians’ smoking habits. Data indicated a decrease in the prevalence of smokers during the first phase, with a slight contraction of 1.4%, which corresponds to an estimated 630,000 fewer smokers.
During the lockdown, however, the consumption in number of cigarettes grew by 8.55%. The average daily intake of cigarettes went from 10.9% to 12.7%, corresponding to a percentage increase of 9.1 %.
The stress and anxiety caused by the current pandemic have caused an increase in the consumption of traditional cigarettes. A situation that highlighted the need for a clear and coherent policy aimed at reducing smoking and boost less harmful alternatives.
Smoking is still the leading cause of cancer and a major contributor to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
“We must accelerate the end of traditional cigarettes by preventing the onset of addiction, strengthening state cessation tools and services, promoting science-based tobacco control regulation, helping smokers who cannot quit smoking on their own to use less harmful alternatives” – concluded Prof. Polosa.