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Doctor Warns Focus On COVID-19 Causing 'Disruption' In Cancer Screenings, Treatments: 'Resources, Attention Has Been Diverted Away'

(CBS Local)-- The spread of COVID-19 has created many scary situations for people with pre-existing conditions.

There is a lot of fear and anxiety these days for cancer patients who need leave the house to get treatment or people who are trying to schedule cancer screenings. Dr. Pat Basu is the President and CEO of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and he says COVID-19 has had a major impact on cancer patients and cancer treatment across the country.

"These are unsettling times for all of us, but particularly in the world of cancer it presents some unique challenges," said Dr. Basu in an interview with CBS Local's DJ Sixsmith. "First of all, I have the privilege of meeting and talking to many cancer patients as a part of my job and they are just an amazing group of individuals. It's definitely been challenging to speak to so many patients during this covid pandemic because they just have a lot of questions. I feel privileged to try and answer a lot of their questions. They are in many cases trying to sift through the noise of what's true and what's not. Cancer does predispose them to an immuno-compromise and that weighs on them. Many of them are having to choose between whether to postpone or delay their lifesaving therapies and diagnoses versus some of the risks of COVID-19."


Dr. Basu says that it's important for cancer patients to consider all these factors, but he doesn't want them to think they are choosing between two extremes. The former Senior Advisor in the Obama administration has been getting questions frequently about whether or not it's safe for cancer patients to continue their treatment. Dr. Basu thinks it will be years before we truly know the impact of COVID-19 on cancer patients.

"It's our job that patients get the care that they need and they don't get their care disrupted," said Dr. Basu. "What keeps me up at night as a physician and the CEO of the only national cancer organization, I fear a study being written in let's say the year 2023 that looks backwards at the preceding three years. 1.8 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer every year. Over that time, that would be 5 million patients that would have diagnoses. What if due to disruption in cancer care, what if one million patients miss their diagnosis of cancer over those few years. What if hundreds of thousands of deaths were caused by the disruption of cancer treatments. That really worries me because in medicine we often look back at these studies and we say we didn't realize this was happening. I want to try and look forward and say how do we prevent that."

While a lot of time, money and resources are being poured into finding and creating a viable vaccine to treat COVID-19, Dr. Basu believes we can focus on finding a cure for both cancer and coronavirus.

"The metaphor of war has been used for these diseases for some time," said Dr. Basu. "The war on cancer and the battle against cancer and people have called it the war on covid. I'll stick with those themes, there is such a thing as a two-front or multi-front war. I've had patients that I've had the extreme privilege to take care of that fought in World War II. There were operations for the war going on in Europe and operations for the war going on in the Pacific. Lesson number one is that you never completely turn your back on one side. You don't say, we're turning our back on the war on cancer. That is paramount. A lot of patients have been disrupted and resources have been diverted away and also our attention has been diverted away. Cancer is not one of those diseases you ever want to take your eye off."

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