How is COVID-19 taking a toll on pediatric cancer patients?

Area doctor says it’s time to get that lump looked at

A pediatrician says due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a cancer screening may be long overdue, and as a result, new cancers are getting diagnosed at later stages.

SAN ANTONIO – A lump or a bump that your child has had for years may be the tip of an iceberg that’s been growing since it was last screened by a doctor. That’s the word of warning from a pediatric oncology specialist at UT Health San Antonio.

Dr. Chatchawin Assanasen, distinguished chair at the UT Health Long School of Medicine in Pediatric Oncology, said in this fearful Covid-19 world, a lifesaving cancer screening may be long overdue. As a result, new cancers are getting diagnosed at later stages.

“Ultimately, we’re seeing a lot of later presentations, meaning that they’re growing to the point where they’re fairly obvious. Unfortunately, when it’s to that degree, it can be more difficult to treat,” said Assanasen.

He likens it to weeds that are allowed to run rampant in a garden. The less you tend to them, the more you get and the harder it is to eliminate them all. A simple lump that has been unchecked for a year could grow unfettered, complicating what may have been a simple case to treat.

That has been the case with some of Assanasen’s patients, where a simple blood test or X-ray was all that was needed to reveal new growth.

“We have patients that have had significant disease that was more than localized and presented a higher status and metastatic disease. Rather than being a Stage One, we would probably present it as a Stage Two or Three,” Assanasen said.

With most healthcare workers and a growing number of the general public being vaccinated now, fears that resuming normal doctor visits and medical screenings might be dangerous should be fading now.

Assanasen said time is never on your side when it comes to cancer, because the faster you find it, the better chance you have of getting the right therapy at the right moment. Wait too long and it may not respond to even the best therapies medical technology can offer.

As well, a new study that was published in Nature Cancer in February explains how understanding heredity factors of cancers in children can help better prepare the family, as well as find the proper treatment.

It found that if doctors are armed with the information on the genetic mutations of their pediatric cancer patients, they can use that information to accurately choose targeted therapies they know will be effective.

The Sloan Kettering Institute is now recommending all children with cancer be tested for inherited factors. More information on the new study can be found here.

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About the Author:

Ursula Pari has been a staple of television news in Texas at KSAT 12 News since 1996 and a veteran of broadcast journalism for more than 30 years.