At a time when elective cancer surgeries across the world were put on hold or curtailed due to the pandemic, doctors at AIIMS performed 41 bone sarcoma surgeries during the lockdown. A study to evaluate the early results and feasibility of surgeries for bone sarcomas during the Covid lockdown conducted by the department of orthopedics has now been published in the Wiley Journal of Surgical Oncology.
The study, ‘Bone sarcoma surgery in times of Covid-19 pandemic lockdown — early experience from a tertiary centre in India’, was conducted on two groups of patients — the “non-lockdown group” operated between February 24 and March 22; and the “lockdown group” operated between March 23 and April 18.
Ninety-one patients qualified for the research, out of which 41 were part of the lockdown group. The study revealed that during the lockdown, 37 patients, or 90%, underwent a major surgical intervention, against 24 patients, or 48%, in the non-lockdown group.
Out of the 37 major procedures performed during the lockdown, 31 were limb salvage procedures. “Sarcomas are the worst cancers as for these patients it’s about life and death. If you don’t operate in the stipulated time, the risk of recurrence becomes very high. The aim was to let patients know surgery is possible. Due to availability of beds and ICU, we were able to perform major surgeries, which was not the case during the pre-lockdown period. A cancer patient generally doesn’t defer treatment. Patients had been waiting for a long time to get a date for surgery at AIIMS, so we took a few steps to provide the treatment,” said Dr Shah Alam Khan, lead author of the study and Professor at Department of orthopedics at AIIMS.
The researchers hope the study will help provide inputs to formulate guidelines for bone sarcoma surgery in times such as the pandemic.
“As lockdowns may become the new normal until we find an efficient vaccine or drug for Covid-19, the state machinery has to chalk out proper referral pathways for ensuring timely diagnosis and treatment initiation of patients with sarcoma, failing which we may end up losing more lives due to non-Covid deadly diseases,” the study states.
One of the co-authors of the paper, Dr Rajesh Malhotra who heads the orthopedic department and is the Chief of JPNA Trauma Center, said: “It’s being said one should learn to live with Covid, but you can’t live with cancer; it will kill you. Cancer is a bigger threat as it is bound to kill you over a period of time if left untreated. The national lockdown did not mean a hospital lockdown. The hospital was working tirelessly for emergencies, trauma, and cancer patients. At least in orthopedics, we never stopped operating and utilising our operation theatres to the fullest.”
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