Dr Ammiel Arra, Consultant Surgical Oncologist and HPB (Hepato-Pancreatic-Biliary) Surgeon at the San Fernando General Hospital.
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Cancers of the colon and rectum have doubled in the past decade in people under the age of 50 years, and since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many patients have died because of delays in getting medical care.

This was revealed by Dr Ammiel Arra, Consultant Surgical Oncologist and HPB (Hepato-Pancreatic-Biliary) Surgeon at the San Fernando General Hospital.

Speaking on CNC3’s Ask the Doctor, Dr Arra said:

“The recent scourge of the COVID 19 pandemic has done us no favours in the battle against cancers of all types.”

He explained that people have been unwilling to come to the hospital for medical care and their diagnosis occurs when the cancer spread has accelerated.

“Delays in the presentation of patients who avoid seeking medical care, as well as prolonged waiting times to access adequate workup, and limited resources to initiate treatment have become commonplace in the pandemic era,” he added.

He added, ” Unfortunately, these threaten to expand the COVID death toll to include patients who may never have even contracted the coronavirus.”

Dr Arra noted that cancers of the colon and rectum are among the most common in our population.

“In fact, in addition to the tragic loss of life brought on by these cancers, they also present a devastating economic and social impact on the national community,” he noted.

Dr Arra urged the public to take better care of their health by doing medical check-ups.

“Did you know that if colorectal cancers are detected at an early stage, they can be cured by simple surgical or endoscopic removal, preventing the need for major surgery, radiation treatment or chemotherapy?” he said.

He noted that some cancers may exist in a dormant or pre-cancerous form for several years.

“During this time, they can be identified and removed before they gain the ability to invade and spread to other parts of the body. This process of identifying and treating diseases at an early stage is known as screening. While it may not be applicable to all cancers, screening for colorectal cancer has been demonstrated to be a safe, easy, and reliable process,” he said.

He noted that a colonoscopy [visualization of the inside of the colon using a camera introduced into the rectum], radiological imaging and stool tests are easy ways to identify cancer.

“Despite being available in our population, a significant number of patients presenting to the hospital, do so at an advanced stage. Many admit to symptoms pre-dating their arrival to hospital by months, which have been either ignored or misdiagnosed as trivial issues,” he added.

Although screening for colorectal cancers begins at the age of 50 for the average person, Dr Arra said it can be recommended even earlier in patients with a family history or other genetic disorders.

“Our team at San Fernando General Hospital suggests that its incidence in the under 50 age group has doubled in the last decade,” he added.

Dr Arra said everyone must guard their health.

“Be vigilant and remember that despite COVID taking the spotlight in recent times, the classical diseases remain quite present and a significant burden to the population,” he said.

Dr Arra also said anyone who notices rectal bleeding or blood in their stool, difficulty passing stool, unintentional weight loss or tiredness or even has a strong family history of cancer should do a thorough workup.

“As always it is advisable to take steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle to lower your risk for colon cancer,” he said.

He urged citizens to have a healthy diet low in fat and high in fibre, increase their physical activity, limit their consumption of alcohol and avoid smoking.