Experts believe that COVID-19 infection mimics lung cancer symptoms in many ways, making early detection of cancer a challenge for health practitioners. However, in the case of Sabeena, a 65-year-old Bagalkot resident, that wasn’t the case.
Two months ago, Sabeena developed a severe cough and fever. An RT-PCR test revealed that she has a COVID-19 infection. After few weeks of the recovery process, she tested negative for the virus, although her cough persisted. Her doctor suggested a CT scan to identify the cause of the persistent cough and discovered that she has a malignant tumour in her lungs.
Initially, the tumour was dismissed as the aftereffect of Covid-19 and was treated by antibiotics. However, Sabeena’s son forced her to go to Bengaluru, where advanced testing revealed that she has lung cancer.
This is the case with most lung cancers, says Dr C Ramachandra, Director, Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology. “Lung cancer is generally detected very late. It progresses aggressively, so the time gap between the symptoms and the advanced stage is minimal. Around 90 per cent of the patients come in for treatment of lung cancer too late. Most times, cancer would have gone beyond cure. Hence the cure rate is meagre in these cases,” he adds.
COVID-19 pandemic has only made the early detection of lung cancer worse. Half the time, people don’t want to see a doctor even if they have a cough and other symptoms for fear of COVID. And those who get diagnosed with Covid take syrups and antibiotics and stay back. Only an X-RAY or a CT scan can detect lung cancer, so it should be done as a precautionary measure for most COVID patients suffering from lung afflictions, adds Dr C Ramachandra.
City hospitals are seeing more cases with third and fourth stages of Lung cancer. Unfortunately, most are not curable. And this is seen in all age groups. However, a small margin of people got lucky with the tumour being detected earlier with CT and X-Ray and are undergoing treatment. Covid helped them find cancer they didn’t know they had.
But for others in rural parts and cities, the wrong diagnosis is just making things worse, agree oncologists. However, it has to be said that so far, there is no evidence to corroborate that COVID-19 causes lung cancer or tumour. So, if your COVID symptoms persist even after you test negative, a CT scan is strongly advisable.