Madrid, September 13, 2021- "the survival rate in lung cancer in Spain may have fallen by 2% since the beginning of the pandemic as a result of delays in diagnosing patients”, as stated by Dr. Allan Sam, head of the Pulmonology Service at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid, on the occasion of European Lung Cancer Week, which takes place these days, who also adds that the real figure will not be known until after a year or two.
In fact, lung cancer survival in Spain before the pandemic had a clear trend towards improvement. “In 2010, the survival rate was 10% and reached a remarkable 16% in 2019. However, in 2020 we began to see a slight fall of 1% (from 16 to 15%), and it is estimated that by 2021 there will be a further decrease of 1%”, he says. "Only time will tell how much more the rate will fall," he warns1.
According to data from the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM), in the first five months of 2020 some 9,147 people died of lung cancer in Spain. During this period, lung cancer was the second most diagnosed cancer in the world, second only to breast cancer, and is responsible for the highest number of deaths worldwide (18% of all cancer deaths) 1.
COVID-19 versus lung cancer
Although the spread of COVID has been the main concern of smokers during the pandemic, that is not the greatest danger, warns Dr. Sam. "The main problem has been in the delays in diagnosing patients, since primary care has been saturated, which has led to delays in detecting the cancer, which can have tragic consequences".
Another problem is that the symptoms of COVID-19 can be confused with the early symptoms of lung cancer. Fatigue, dyspnea, shortness of breath and cough are some of the common symptoms of both conditions. "Many people with respiratory symptoms and suspected COVID-19, have not consulted their doctor out of fear and, therefore, have not had the necessary tests to rule out lung cancer," states the specialist, who goes on to explain that this late diagnosis can reduce the chances of survival in this type of cancer.
Furthermore, the pulmonologist reminds the public that the risk of spreading Covid increases when people are smoking, not only due to the common risk factors, but also due to smokers exhaling without masks. If the recommended safety distance to prevent the spread of Covid is at least one and a half meters, when smoking or vaping it should be “at least eight meters”. "Restrictions should be much stricter," insists the doctor.
Smoking in a pandemic
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an increase in the consumption of tobacco and a return to smoking. According to the OEDA-COVID 2020 survey carried out by the Spanish Observatory of Drugs and Addictions, there are 1.2% more new smokers since the pandemic began2. "The problem is that 5% of those who had stopped smoking have started again and it is particularly so, among people between 50-60 years of age," says the specialist.
Although at the beginning of the pandemic a lot of people stopped smoking for fear of lung disease and how that could complicate a COVID-19 infection, the truth is that, with the extension of lockdown and increased anxiety rates, 5.7% of these people started smoking again, in many cases “smoking even more than before” 2.
Although having had COVID-19 does not make the patient more prone to lung cancer, having lung cancer does increase the chances of serious consequences in the case of contracting coronavirus, because the risk factors are greater, since "it has been shown that smokers, as a result of having the cardiovascular risk factors associated with smoking, caught Covid earlier and were more seriously affected”.
1Las cifras del cáncer en España 2021. Sociedad Española de Oncología Médica. https://seom.org/images/Cifras_del_cancer_en_Espnaha_2021.pdf
2Encuesta OEDA-COVID 2020. Observatorio Español de las Drogas y las Adicciones. https://pnsd.sanidad.gob.es/profesionales/sistemasInformacion/sistemaInformacion/COVID-19/20210326_Informe_ENCUESTA_OEDA-COVID_2020_def.pdf