Small delays in cancer treatment can up death risk by 10%, says study


Delaying cancer treatment by just for even one month can increase the risk of death by up to 10 per cent, say, researchers, adding that minimising delays to treatment could improve cancer survival rates. Also Read – Chemotherapy and sex: Is sexual activity safe during cancer treatment?

The study, published in the journal ‘The BMJ’, found that there was a significant impact on a person’s mortality if their treatment was delayed, whether that be surgical, systemic therapy (such as chemotherapy), or radiotherapy for seven types of cancer. Also Read – Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Why chemotherapy causes weight gain?

Impact of delay in treatment

Globally, health systems have problems with cancer treatment delays and it is already widely accepted that such delays can have adverse consequences on a patient’s outcome. Also Read – Actor Sanjay Dutt emerges victorious after battling cancer: Know the common symptoms of this disease

But the precise impact of delays from diagnosis to receipt of treatment on mortality has not been thoroughly analysed.

Therefore, a team of researchers from Queen’s University in Canada carried out a review and analysis of relevant studies into the subject published between January 2000 and April 2020.

These studies had data on surgical interventions, systemic therapy (such as chemotherapy), or radiotherapy for seven forms of cancer – bladder, breast, colon, rectum, lung, cervix, and head and neck – that together, represent 44 per cent of all incident cancers globally.

Their main outcome measure was the risk to overall survival per four-week delay for each indication and delays were measured from diagnosis to first treatment, or from the completion of one treatment to the start of the next.

They found 34 suitable studies for 17 types of conditions that needed to be treated (indications) involving more than 1.2 million patients, collectively.

The association between delay and increased mortality was significant for 13 of these 17 indications.

“Analysis of the results showed that across all three treatment approaches, a treatment delay of four weeks was associated with an increase in the risk of death,” the study authors wrote.

For surgery, this was a 6-8 per cent increase in the risk of death for every four-week treatment delay whereas the impact was even more marked for some radiotherapy systemic treatments.

In addition, the researchers calculated that delays of up to eight weeks and 12 weeks and found a further increased in the risk of death.

“A four-week delay in treatment is associated with an increase in mortality across all common forms of cancer treatment, with longer delays being increasingly detrimental,” the study authors noted.

Cancer – The deadly disease

According to the latest projections of the WHO, one in 10 Indians will develop cancer during their lifetime and one in 15 will lose their lives to it. This WHO report also reveals quite a few alarming cancer statistics about India:

  • 16 million new cases of cancer registered every year
  • 7,84,800 lose their lives to this condition
  • Six major types of cancer recorded in India are breast cancer, oral cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, and colorectal cancer.

So, what is cancer?

Cancer is a fatal condition characterised by abnormal cell division. Our body is constituted of trillions of cells. Healthy cells grow and divide according to the necessity of the body. As they age or are damaged, these cells die, and new ones replace them. When one develops cancer, cells stop functioning like this. Old and damaged cells survive instead of dying and new cells start forming even when they are not necessary. These extra cells divide uncontrollably resulting in tumours. While many forms of cancer are characterised by solid tumours or tissue masses, blood cancers do not result in tumours. Cancer, which can develop in any part of the body, generally spreads to the nearby tissues. The abnormal, damaged cancer cells march to distant locations of the body too though the bloodstream and form new malignant tumours.

Cancer is an umbrella term for a host of related diseases. The most common forms of this condition are breast cancer, ovarian cancer, skin cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and lymphoma. The manifestations vary depending on the type of cancer and the standard line of treatment includes chemotherapy, radiation, and/or surgery.

Reduce your cancer risk with these lifestyles changes

Cancer isn’t a condition that can be prevented. However, certain lifestyle measures can reduce your risk of the condition for sure. Here, we guide you on them.

Say no to tobacco: This is an important step towards cancer risk reduction. Join a smoking cessation programme if need be.

Avoid certain foods: Sugar and refined carbs, processed foods, overcooked and reheated foods increase your risk of cancer. Be cautious while having them.

Practise moderation while it comes to alcohol: It increases your risk of cancer of the breast, colon, lung, kidney and liver. So, make sure you don’t go overboard on alcohol.

Maintain a healthy body weight: Obesity is thought to be a major contributing factor behind cancers of the breast, colon, lung and prostate. So maintaining healthy body weight is crucial. Apart from following a healthy dietary regimen, you should also work out regularly and stay active through the day to keep obesity at bay.

Immunise yourself against certain infections: Viral infections caused by hepatitis B and HPV increase your chances of certain cancers. Get yourself vaccinated against these viruses.

Other effective measures include reducing your exposure to environmental toxins, harsh rays of the sun and radiation.

(With inputs from Agencies)

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