How is COVID-19 affecting other medical procedures?

TORONTO — As hospitals prepare for an increase in COVID-19 cases, provinces have cancelled elective and non-urgent surgeries to free up intensive care.

But some non-elective surgeries are also on hold, causing concern for patients across the country.

Calgary resident Alyssa Denis has been waiting months for critical surgery to stop the spread of her cervical cancer. When she got the news that the surgery was cancelled, she didn’t know what to think.

“I could die easily from something that’s usually super treatable,” she told CTV News. “And that scares me.”

The 38-year-old was diagnosed with cervical cancer last July. She tried less invasive procedures at first, but now needs a hysterectomy to make sure the cancer doesn’t spread further. Her surgery has already been cancelled twice.

Denis said she’s having to work “very hard not to be anxious.”

She’s not the only one. Across Canada, cancer surgeries are being delayed or cancelled, and patients are triaged based on urgency. This week, Cancer Care Ontario provided new guidelines to help doctors prioritize cases.

Dr. Frances Wright, a surgeon at Sunnybrook Sciences Centre in Toronto, told CTV News that the they are looking at “whether that patient … has a life-threatening problem or not.

“And if the cancer changes over time or they’re on some sort of therapy that stops responding, then that would be someone who moves to the top of the list.”

Another concern is that health-care professionals want to limit the potential exposure risk — cancer patients contracting COVID-19 after being exposed accidentally in a hospital setting is the last thing patients and doctors want.

The increased focus on shifting resources towards COVID-19 patients doesn’t just affect cancer surgeries, but other procedures, including heart, kidney, liver and lung transplants.

In North America’s largest organ transplant centre in Toronto, doctors performed only eight organ transplants in the last two weeks, compared to the usual average of 25 to 30 in the same time period.

Only the most urgent transplants have been going ahead, with health-care workers scaling back in order to preserve protective equipment. They are also concerned about challenges with testing.

“How do we screen a donor and make sure that the donor is okay and doesn’t have early COVID that we might have a problem with if we try to transplant that lung?” explained Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, the Toronto Lung Transplant Program Director.

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