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Evolution of Oncology Care During the Pandemic

While the oncology sector endured a shot in the light of the pandemic, it has not only bounced back but is also witnessing exponential growth and attention. Satyaki Banerjee, CEO, Medical Imaging, Trivitron Healthcare opines

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the healthcare industry and professionals to concentrate their strength and prowess in managing the vast outbreak. It was perhaps, the need of the hour. Thanks to the dedication of healthcare workers and professionals, and to the industry at large, the world developed multiple vaccines and advanced treatment protocols. However, while India is now comparatively better prepared to manage the pandemic wave, critical medical areas such as oncology had taken a hit initially. It is known thatimmune-compromised people are at a much higher risk of COVID-19 infection, and cancer patients usually fall into such category.

Owing to the pandemic, the hospital visits for chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery for cancer were curtailed exponentially. Even the cancer screening facilities were toned down in order to focus the strength on the management of COVID-19. In fact, during the first lockdown, as much as 69 per cent of healthcare institutions halted the screening. This consequently led to a low number of cancer patient registrations, a reduction of almost56 per cent all over the country. This observation is critical as India sees an annual diagnosis of over 1.3 million cancer patients and an annual death of .85 million patients. In fact, cancer deaths contribute 8 per cent of the total number of adults’ death in the country.

In such a scenario, any halt in the screening and treatment process will prove to be devastating. However, with the pandemic getting into the first level of control; Hospitals were segregated as COVID and non-COVID hospitals. This allowed safe access for cancer patients to continue their treatment. At the same time, in large hospitals, COVID and non- COVID areas were strictly demarcated in order to reduce contamination and maintain a COVID-free environment for cancer screening and treatment.

In the sector of oncological diagnosis, there have been significant improvements. While the oncology sector endured a shot in the light of the pandemic, it has not only bounced back but is also witnessing exponential growth and attention. A key aspect of cancer diagnosis is Next-Generation- Sequencing or NGS which provides vast insight into the genetic materials (DNA & RNA), helping healthcare experts narrow down the origin as well as the level of cancer in the patients. The NGS market in India has been forecasted to grow at 19.6 per cent CAGR, touching $71 Million by 2028. A driving factor for the growth of NGS was the disruption of the supply chain during lockdown which prevented firms from importing (or exporting) crucial raw material needed for testing. This forced companies to invest in NGS which is far more user- friendly and does not require excess reliance on imported raw materials.

Another important aspect when it comes to oncology care and treatment is advances made in Medical Imaging. There are multiple imaging modalities available to clinicians to diagnose, stage, and treat human cancer: Computed Tomography (CT Scan), Ultrasound (US), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Single-photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT), Positron Emission Tomography (PET), and optical imaging. Of these, CT, MRI, SPECT, and ET are capable of three-dimensional (3-D) detection of cancer anywhere in the human body.

Major cancerous tumours are likely to be treated if they are diagnosed early. This is perhaps one of the strongest driving forces behind the expansion of the Medical Imaging segment. Mammography plays a  particularlyimportant role when it comes to breast cancer diagnosis and imaging. Detected early the chances of complete cure is very high with a very good quality of life for the patient. Advanced digital mammography systems, especially those with very sophisticated AI- enabled image processing systems are particularly effective in detecting very very early stage breast cancers.

The COVID-19 spurred the development of at-home self-health care, even in case of severe diseases. This was also adopted by the oncology sector. There has been an increased at-home treatment and extension of care
services for cancer patients, especially the ones for whom going to the hospital was deemed unsafe, and those who were at late-stage cancer. This has not only allowed firms and companies to expand their home-care services but has also helped patients to receive care from the comfort of their home, with their family members always around them. The market for home care is also expected to grow at a significant rate in the upcoming years.

Government initiatives have contributed to enhancing the current infrastructure to guarantee the delivery of tailored healthcare even in tier ii/iii cities. Our healthcare system has been given the opportunity to be re-evaluated, and reformed in light of the pandemic. India’s future lies in putting its focus on excellence, merging cutting-edge treatments with a team of doctors that provide patient-centric care.

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