When COVID-19 arrived in Austin and our lives were shuttered in mid-March, it was not just work, school and socializing that were put on hold. Important surgeries and many medical procedures that did not meet a very specific criteria were also postponed.
Imagine being a patient needing life-saving surgery for cancer and the stress and anxiety of being told to ‘wait it out’ before you could have a growing tumor removed?
This describes the roller coaster of emotions many of our cancer patients at CTVS in Austin had to endure over the past several weeks as government and medical organizations decided which procedures were deemed necessary in order to free up hospital space and healthcare workers in anticipation of tending to the virus.
Many experts fear that this delay in access to surgical treatments — especially those suffering from cancer — could have had a negative impact on their prognosis as it may have spread while awaiting surgery.
“Cancer statistics in particular may look differently in the coming months,” ventures CTVS board-certified thoracic surgeon Dr. Daniel Fortes. “This may be due to limited work up taking place to diagnose new cases and potentially worse cure rates due to more advanced stages of cancer consequent to the delay.”
The amount of surgeries that had to be put on hold while focusing on COVID-19 is staggering. A study just published in the British Journal of Surgery estimates that more than 28 million operations would have been cancelled or postponed across 190 countries worldwide over this past 12-week period. Further estimates project it could take up to as many as 45 weeks to work through that backlog of procedures.
As restrictions have eased and operating rooms are opening up again here in Central Texas, our team of thoracic specialists –especially those treating our lung and esophageal cancer patients — have stepped up to accommodate everyone as swiftly as possible.
“Time is of the essence when fighting cancer,” says CTVS board-certified surgeon Dr. Rachel Medbery. “How quickly we can remove a tumor or mass before it spreads to lymph nodes is critical. We have moved mountains to get back on track and provide patients with the surgical care they need immediately following these delays that were essentially beyond our control.”
Here is a glimpse of what the life-saving cancer surgeries CTVS routinely performs have looked like over the past months, and what is being done now as we are able to thankfully move forward:
What kind of important surgeries were forced to be put on hold?
The American College of Surgeons issued guidelines for delaying surgical care of certain cancers or potential cancers that were unlikely to alter outcome, such as slower-growing tumors and small early stage cancers. Surgeries to diagnose new cancers were also drastically reduced during this time.
How can patients be sure that it is now safe to undergo their postponed procedures amid COVID-19?
“Procedures were never unsafe,” assures Dr. Fortes. “The reason for the delay was to allow hospital systems to conserve supplies. Hospitals are cleaner now than ever, and patients with COVID-19 are isolated in specific areas with dedicated staff so there is no cross-contamination with other regularly admitted patients.”
Patients are also being tested for the virus before their scheduled procedure.
How are post-surgery follow up visits being conducted?
Whenever possible, post-op visits are conducted by telemedicine. Sometimes, however, face-to-face interactions are still necessary, and we practice social distancing in both waiting and exam rooms and require all of our staff to wear face coverings in order to protect our patients.