Cancer does not take a corona break

Even in times of a pandemic, cancer patients were and are treated in the Oncology Center at the Worms Clinic.

Cancer knows no lockdown

On 4. February is World Cancer Day, on which the doctors of the Oncology Center at the Worms Hospital would like to draw attention to the fact that cancer does not take a corona break. The earlier a tumor can be detected and thus treated, the better the prognosis usually is. This is why patients should not shy away from going to the doctor or being treated in hospital, even in times of a pandemic.

Frank H. is 73 years old. It all started with abdominal pain. First they came now and then the spasmodic attacks of pain became more frequent. The pensioner had explained the discomfort he experienced when going to the toilet with too much or too greasy food. Frank H was pleased with the three kilos he had lost in recent weeks despite his not-so-healthy diet. rather pleased. Then, however, came the bloody diarrhea with which Frank H. finally presented to his family doctor. Suddenly, everything happened very fast: After the referral to the specialist, it is clear that the former engineer needs to go to the hospital as soon as possible. Diagnosis: colorectal cancer.

The story of Frank H. happens like this or similar, thousands of times a year in Germany alone. Every year, about half a million people in the Federal Republic of Germany are newly diagnosed with cancer. The good news is that the majority of cancers can be treated very well at an early stage.

"This is exactly why regular check-ups with a general practitioner or specialist are so important. But these are not always noticed," reports PD Dr. Markus Hirschburger, who is chief of general, visceral and thoracic surgery at the Worms hospital. "We experience time and again that patients come to us in the hospital only at very late stages. Particularly in the past pandemic months, many have shied away from going to the doctor out of fear of the corona virus and have not taken advantage of important preventive examinations," recalls surgeon. "Such cases are always tragic, because the sooner we operate, the better the chances that the patient will get completely well again."

Care also during the corona pandemic

Almost all types of cancer are treated at the Oncology Center of the Worms Hospital. From tumors of the stomach and intestines to those of the liver and kidneys, and tumors of the pancreas and lungs, as well as the female and male reproductive organs. "All patients, and especially cancer patients, have of course been and will continue to receive full care at our hospital during the corona pandemic," emphasizes Prof. Dr. Tim Zimmermann as head of the oncology center at the hospital. "In recent months, the public perception has forgotten in one place or another that there are still many people – quite apart from Corona – who are seriously ill and depend on our help."

The most important and decisive procedure for many types of cancer is still surgery. Here, "the earlier, the better" applies, as PD Dr. Hirschburger adds: "Especially in the case of the very insidious pancreatic cancer, which often only becomes symptomatic in very late stages, early surgery is decisive. If we manage to surgically remove the tumor at a very early stage or even its precursor variants, the chance of being able to help the affected patient well is great."

Surgery is as radical as necessary and as gentle as possible – this applies to almost all tumors. "In oncological operations, we can now increasingly rely on the most modern minimally invasive techniques," says PD Dr. Hirschburger. "Minimally invasive" means that skin and soft tissues are injured as little as possible and only very small incisions are made. This allows us to operate in a particularly gentle way. At the hospital, we have been using the robotic Da Vinci system for tumor operations for many years and have a very high level of expertise in this area, which has made us a respected training center for robotic surgery in Europe. In this state-of-the-art minimally invasive surgical procedure, the surgeon’s arm is virtually extended by the surgical robot."

"Cancer patients in particular must not forget"

Even though early surgery is often the decisive treatment step, in some cases it can even be avoided altogether, provided the cancer is detected in time, as Prof. Dr. Zimmermann explains: "This is the case with precursor stages of colorectal cancer and tumors that are in a very early stage. In many of these patients, we can remove the tissue growths from which malignant tumors form endoscopically, that is, with a colonoscopy."A lot has also changed in terms of drug therapy approaches. "Promising studies are underway on so-called immunotherapies, which aim to activate the body’s own immune system in such a way as to prevent tumor cell growth," says Prof. Zimmermann continues.

One thing is particularly important to both chief physicians: "Even though we are still in the midst of a pandemic, we must not forget cancer patients in particular. And" – as the two physicians emphasize – "these patients have of course been and will continue to be treated and operated on in our Oncology Center during the pandemic. Safety and hygiene measures are extremely high, especially in hospitals, so no one need be afraid of being in a clinic."

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