Coronavirus in Hong Kong: don’t let focus on Covid-19 take our eyes off cancer screening urgency

Professor Dorothy Chan

Regular screenings enable early detection of chronic illnesses like cancer and ease the long-term health care burden. Allay fears among the elderly about coronavirus infection at clinics with better outreach on safety measures.

Over the last few months, the Covid-19 pandemic has made personal hygiene and a healthy lifestyle prime concerns for all. Every day, we are reminded of how important hand hygiene and the proper use of surgical masks are, and how a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, regular exercise and adequate rest can strengthen our immunity. We are also advised to stay home as far as possible, reduce social activities and practise social distancing to “flatten the curve”.

But, with the battle against Covid-19 the top priority, could we be forgetting about the other health risks that can develop more slowly and silently?

Cancer is one of many chronic diseases that are asymptomatic at the early stage. Regular screening facilitates early detection and reduces the long-term burden on the health-care system. Calls to stay home to prevent coronavirus infection may see us postpone or cancel non-urgent health check-ups, thereby missing the chance of early detection.

Recently, our research team visited elderly people at a community centre in Tai Po. Although eligible for colorectal cancer screening, some of these senior citizens were hesitant due to the “lack of urgency”. They were also afraid they might contract the virus at the clinics during cancer screening. Some of them were uncertain about the infection control measures in clinics and whether they could provide adequate protection to healthy visitors.

The pandemic may appear to be the most important thing to worry about, but we hope people can recognise that regular screening is just as important as good personal hygiene for health management. To ease their concerns about potential exposure to the virus, citizens should be well informed about infection control measures, such as environment sanitation, user quotas per slot and social distancing at service stations.

While we see a notable success in the control of Covid-19 infection, given the significant drop in new cases in Hong Kong, we should reactivate our radar for other chronic diseases, including cancer, and take necessary action to safeguard both short- and long-term health.

Dorothy N.S. Chan, The Nethersole School of Nursing, Faculty of Medicine, Chinese University of Hong Kong