Is there a link between Covid-19 and lung cancer? Experts explain

When asked if there was an increase in lung cancer cases during the pandemic, Dr. Pratibh Prasad said instead, Covid-19 has helped in early detection of cases. “People underwent CT scans more frequently than ever as Covid impacted the lungs. This has helped in monitoring any malignancy in the lungs,” he explained.

By Sumavarsha kandula  Published on  13 Nov 2022 10:30 AM GMT
Is there a link between Covid-19 and lung cancer? Experts explain

Hyderabad: November is lung cancer awareness month. We at NewsMeter tried to explore the link between the Covid-19 pandemic and lung cancer.

The Covid pandemic wreaked havoc on India's already overburdened healthcare system. Apart from structural challenges, Covid also had long-term impacts on people's health. From sleep disorders to hormonal changes, each person has reacted differently to the virus.

We spoke to Dr. V. Pratibh Prasad, a consultant pulmonologist at Yashodha Hospitals, and Dr. Ravi Kumar, an oncologist at Amor Hospital, to know the relationship between Covid-19 and lung cancer.

When asked if there was an increase in lung cancer cases during the pandemic, Dr. Pratibh Prasad said instead, Covid-19 has helped in early detection of cases. "People underwent CT scans more frequently than ever as Covid impacted the lungs. This has helped in monitoring any malignancy in the lungs," he explained.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ravi Kumar said, "It is too early to say anything concretely. We will need data."

Agreeing with Dr. Prasad, Dr. Kumar added, "Clinically speaking, there were a lot of CT scans done for Covid in which lesions in lungs were detected."

He explained, "Lesions are any changes, and they can be malignant or not."

Dr. Prasad reiterated, "Many cancer cases were discovered in stages one and two. Lung cancer is typically found in stages three or four because the primary symptom is a cough, and it is quite rare for patients to seek medical attention for this common ailment."

Can Covid cause lung cancer?

When asked if Covid causes lung cancer, Dr. Kumar said, "Not really. Again, until now, there haven't been any such cases."

Dr. Prasad, however, said pulmonary fibrosis, a common condition in Covid, can cause lung cancer. "This can be seen only in the next few years, but in general, people suffering from pulmonary fibrosis are at a greater risk than others," he said.

Passive smokers at risk

Speaking about lifestyle changes during Covid, Dr. Kumar said indoor smoking has increased exponentially. "With lockdowns and work-from-home, people who smoke regularly were smoking at home. This has increased the risk for passive smokers—those who inhale the carcinogenic air," he explained.

He added, "It has been proved that passive smokers are at 20-30% more risk of developing lung cancer than active smokers."

Covid made cancer patients vulnerable

About structural difficulties during the pandemic, Dr. Kumar said, "Our healthcare system was unprepared to deal with such a crisis. This has adversely harmed cancer patients. Regular treatment was hindered, and cancer patients were vulnerable to comorbidities due to their already compromised immunity."

Screening

Asked about screening protocol, both doctors said unless the person has been a chain smoker over the years, they generally don't suggest screening tests.

"But for people with a smoking history, we suggest a low-impact CT scan yearly," suggested Dr. Kumar.

Dr. Prasad emphasized monitoring persistent symptoms. "Even if it is a mild cough, if it persists longer than normal, it is better to get checked. A physician or any other doctor can guide the person from there about tests."

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