Reduction of surgeries raises concerns among cancer patients

One of Japan's leading cancer hospitals said it will conduct fewer operations after a nurse was confirmed to have the coronavirus on Sunday. It is an example of how the pandemic is posing an additional threat to cancer patients throughout the country.

The Cancer Institute Hospital in Tokyo says no patients or other staff members are showing symptoms. But as a precaution, about 110 people who shared a locker room and other work areas with the nurse have started self-isolating at home.

The hospital usually conducts up to 40 surgeries per day but has decided to cut this number by 80% for the time being due to the staff shortage.

It says it will continue accepting outpatients and treating inpatients, adding that it aims to resume surgeries once safety has been confirmed.

The Cancer Institute Hospital in Tokyo
The Cancer Institute Hospital in Tokyo is one of Japan's leading cancer hospitals.

Earlier this month, the hospital started accepting patients in need of urgent surgery, at a time when many other hospitals throughout the capital were scaling back treatment for diseases unrelated to the coronavirus. The Cancer Institute increased its number of operations by about 20% by scheduling on weekends and arranging additional shifts.

Hospital director Sano Takeshi says his staff is trying to determine who should be given priority in treatment. He adds that since he doesn't know what the situation facing them will be next week, he wants to avoid any delay in treatment.

Sano Takeshi
Sano Takeshi, director of the Cancer Institute Hospital in Tokyo.

Amano Shinsuke, head of the Japan Federation of Cancer Patient Groups, says concern is growing among patients.

"Until one or two weeks ago, many patients were worried they might catch the virus by going to a hospital," Amano says. "But since last week, more people have started to worry about postponement of surgery."

Amano says because cancer is a life-threatening disease, a delay in treatment could be fatal. He says he wants people to keep this in mind and avoid going out as much as possible, so as to limit the possibility of a healthcare collapse.

The Japanese Society of Medical Oncology reports that patients who have received anti-cancer drugs or had surgery within the past month face a high risk of developing serious symptoms if infected with the coronavirus.

The society says these patients should contact their doctors as soon as possible if they develop symptoms such as coughing or fever. It also says planned surgeries should be carried out without delay, but early cancer surgeries can be delayed for about four weeks.