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Consultant oncologist: 'I've seen more advanced cancer cases presenting since Covid hit last year'

Dr Greg Korpanty of University Hospital Limerick on cancer treatment in Ireland during a pandemic.

Dr Greg Korpanty

EVERY YEAR IN Ireland, over 30,000 people are diagnosed with cancer. This represents a massive challenge to public health and the structures designed to support those patients.

While significant progress has been made in recent years regarding better awareness levels, quicker diagnosis and newer innovative treatments, Ireland is still not where it needs to be when it comes to options available to Irish patients.

Today is World Cancer Day and this year, more than ever before, an additional level of urgency needs to be placed on identifying solutions as the Covid-19 pandemic compounds and intensifies risk for cancer patients, as more cancers go undiagnosed and more people put off visiting their GP’s or attending routine hospital appointments.

The Covid effects

Speaking from personal experience, over the last 12 months, I’ve seen more cancer patients presenting with advanced disease, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As an oncologist, these are worrying times and we need to be prepared for an influx of cancer patients with more advanced disease and late diagnosis when this pandemic nears a conclusion.

Ireland is already behind our European counterparts and our cancer patients needs access to new and innovative solutions when it comes to healthcare in Ireland.

As an oncologist, it is frustrating to know that Ireland is at the forefront of healthcare when it comes to innovation and manufacturing of cancer treatments, however, Irish cancer patients remain deprived of universal access to these medicines.

We need to do more, and we need action now. Cancer patients cannot afford to wait for access to treatment and care. We need speedy action from the Government to come true on their commitment and playing their part in ensuring cancer care in Ireland lives up to European standards.

Little faith in the system

New research released this week from Ipsos/MRBI and funded by MSD indicates that despite the seriousness of all cancers, the general public believes that not all types of cancer are treated equally, with 50% stating they believe that certain cancers are given priority over others when it comes to things like treatment, funding, and research.

The same survey also found that, while eight out of ten (81%) of those surveyed believe that survival rates have improved for people with cancer in Ireland, nearly half (45%) believe patients in Ireland would not get access to the latest treatments for cancer until after patients in other European countries.

When compared with European counterparts, the same survey shows that a large proportion of the general public believe that Ireland falls behind the rest of Europe, with almost 1 in 4 (23%) believing standards of care are worse in Ireland than in other European countries.

Nearly half (45%) believe they would not get access to the latest treatments for cancer until after patients in other European countries.

We are yet to see the full impact of Covid-19 on Irish healthcare and now more than ever, we need to ensure that we are equipped to manage existing patient needs and prepare for the emerging need.

We need to invest all the efforts to help to establish clinical pathways within our healthcare system supporting timely and efficient diagnosis and treatment of patients with cancer.

Establishing Acute Medical Oncology Units within Irish hospitals treating patients with cancer may help to streamline the growing number of patients with a suspected cancer diagnosis for timely and efficient diagnostic procedures and treatment.

A harsh reality of the situation is that Ireland has an incredible track record for producing innovative medicines for use in healthcare settings across the world, but with Irish patients waiting longer than most Europeans to access the latest approved therapies.

This will need to change as we look to combat the inevitable rise in late to present patients with cancers and to tackle the emerging risk that faces Oncologists and Ireland’s healthcare system into the future.

The aim of World Cancer Day each year, is to save millions of preventable deaths each year through awareness building and education about cancer and pressing governments and individuals across the world to take action against the disease.

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What we do now and the actions we take will be key to preventing, treating, and caring for patients with cancer into the future and their quality of life.

Dr Greg Korpanty is Consultant Medical Oncologist at University Hospital Limerick.

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Dr Greg Korpanty

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