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Cancer Doesn’t Wait: Why You Still Might Need Surgery During the Coronavirus Crisis

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In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, hospitals across the world are currently postponing some of their surgical operations to free up facilities, equipment, personal protective gear and hospital rooms. Doing this makes sense when it is for surgery that is considered “elective” – or operations that do not need to be offered right away. However, some operations are needed quickly and cannot be put off for very long.

Surgery to remove a cancerous tumor falls into this non-elective surgery category. For many cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, having an operation to completely remove malignant tumor cells is often a patient’s only chance for a cure.

“Cancer never waits,” says Sharona Ross, MD, FACS, an advanced Foregut and HPB surgeon at the Digestive Institute Tampa at AdventHealth. “It continues to grow, and even a few weeks might make the difference between being able to resect (surgically remove) a tumor and not being able to give a patient this option.”

With Gastro-Intestinal (GI) Cancers, Time Is of the Essence

Dr. Ross explains that with hepatopancreatobiliary (HPB) cancers of the liver, pancreas and gallbladder – as well as with esophageal, stomach, colon and rectal cancers – time is of the essence. That is why she and her Digestive Health Institute Tampa colleague, Iswanto Sucandy, MD, FACS, advanced HPB surgeon, strive to see newly diagnosed cancer patients for an initial consultation within five business days of their call, and often earlier. In fact, Digestive Health Institute Tampa’s entire multidisciplinary team works together to guide patients rapidly into treatment very soon after cancer diagnosis.

“We pride ourselves in providing cancer operations to patients as quickly as possible,” Dr. Ross says. “As much as it’s within our power, our goal is to perform the operation within a week of a patient’s first visit with us,” she continues.

Telemedicine Allows Digestive Health Institute Tampa’s Surgeons to Meet Remotely with Patients

Of course, given the present coronavirus concerns, some patients newly diagnosed with cancer might hesitate to visit a surgeon until it seems safer to go out in public. However, because waiting is often not ideal for cancer patients, the surgeons at the Digestive Health Institute offer initial consultations through telemedicine appointments. During these consultations – where patients can stay in the comfort of their own living rooms – The surgeons are able to review patients’ imaging studies that show the tumor’s extent and location. They also gather much of the other information they need through a video call with patients and their referring doctors.

These remote appointments help the surgeons determine if a patient can be treated with an operation to remove the cancerous tumor. If the patient is a candidate for surgery, he or she will need to be seen at Digestive Health Institute for a preoperative medical evaluation. In this case, the patient’s need for cancer operation outweighs concerns about the much smaller risk of being exposed to COVID-19.

When Patients with Cancer Might Have Surgery Later

Finally, it should be said that not all patients with cancer are able to have surgery right away. Some cancer tumors are locally advanced, which means that they have grown or spread to the point where they are slightly too large or invasive to be removed by surgery. A patient in this situation would first have chemotherapy or another cancer treatment. This first-line treatment might shrink the tumor to the point where it could be safely operated on. This would then give patients surgery as a treatment option – important because tumor resection is strongly linked to survival.

It is critical that patients who have been diagnosed with a digestive cancer of the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, colon or rectum, explore their surgical options right away.

“It is important for patients with cancer to continue to seek immediate care,” stresses Dr. Ross. That’s why she and her fellow surgeons at the Digestive Health Institute Tampa stand ready to offer patients non-elective, live-saving surgical procedures.

If you have been diagnosed with a cancer, don’t wait. Call 833-288-0248 right away to schedule an initial consultation.

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