Quebec women delaying cancer testing, arriving with more advanced tumours: gynecologist

MONTREAL — There are clear signs that Quebec patients with potential gynecological cancer have been delaying testing and treatment in the pandemic, says a leading doctor in the field.

“We have seen patients coming in with more advanced-stage cancer because, in fact, they were scared” of seeking treatment, says Dr. Alexandra Sebastianelli, a gynecological oncology specialist based in Montreal. 

“So the tumour may be bigger or more advanced because… the situation of COVID has postponed their medical care.”

Her message to patients with any worrying gynecological symptoms is clear: get in touch with your doctor immediately.

You won’t catch COVID-19 by getting treatment, she says, and doctors are working hard to prioritize every case according to its urgency.

“We have sanitizing gel, we have masks…we have everything that is necessary,” said Sebastianelli in an interview with CTV News.

“We are testing every patient prior to their surgery, so yes, it’s safe to go the hospital or the clinic if you need to.”

There are also signs those early worries of COVID-19 infection are lessening right now. The province’s gynecologists have already seen a big bump in new appointments lately.

“We are facing a great amount of new consultations because patients were either scared of the pandemic… or their appointments were postponed,” said Sebastianelli.

Doctors have also been trying to stay in touch with patients by increasing telemedicine, whether phone or videoconference appointments. That’s still an option that can save someone a trip to a clinic unless the doctor deems it’s necessary, she said.

Symptoms of various forms of gynecological cancer can include bloating, back pain, irregular bleeding and a variety of other symptoms.

While gynecologists have been busy triaging patients to make sure the most pressing cases receive surgery first, there are still some capacity issues that likely mean it’ll take longer than usual to get through the entire backlog, said Sebastianelli.

“We are working very hard… to make sure there are no further delays in surgery,” she said. “But we are for sure still facing challenges to access [operating room] time in some areas of the province.”

Watch the video above to see Dr. Sebastianelli’s full interview.

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