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Raising cancer awareness amid COVID-19 pandemic

guest column :Madzudzo Michelle At the present, COVID-19 pandemic is the focus of the country and an all-consuming thought to the healthcare system countrywide. In an attempt to both reduce COVID-19-related deaths but mostly to “flatten the curve”, that is, spread out non-avoidable mortality over a longer period, a majority of countries worldwide have introduced significant public health measures with one common denominator, less social exposure combined with more social distancing (national lockdowns). Consequently, many clinical activities have been relegated to second priority, cancer services included. It really takes a lot to overshadow one of the leading causes of death in Zimbabwe, which is currently killing more people than HIV, TB and malaria combined, but a dearth of data, shortage of tests and equipments, lack of proven treatments or vaccine and the speed at which the virus spreads have turned the coronavirus into a much bigger bogeyman than our old foes, the carcinomas and lymphomas, at least for the time being! Cancer is the devil that I personally know, but somehow because of the widespread pandemic, people may start to fear a COVID-19 diagnosis more than cancer. As a result, potential cancer patients’ minds are now directed towards the following COVID-19 symptoms. Fever of at least 38 degrees Celsius body temperature Shortness of breath Chills Muscle aches and pains Sore throat Loss of smell and taste Other symptoms may include Tiredness Loss of appetite Coughing up sputum If you face any of these symptoms in Zimbabwe, call toll free line 2019 and get help. Like many countries, our healthcare and other social care services, including community medicine have been directed to optimally manage the COVID-19 outbreak. Given the media’s special focus on COVID-19 over all other health issues, we should carefully and precisely measure the impact of these cumulative medical and social changes on cancer outcomes. The consequences of lockdown measures and displacement of cancer awareness and screening activities in the general population could have significant impact on cancer outcomes where before COVID-19, we have already been experiencing significant challenges in delivering cancer control, with increasingly fragile cancer services and already stressed general healthcare systems. As we continue to fight COVID-19 in Zimbabwe, let us also bear in mind that being in a pandemic does not keep cancer at bay. Are you aware that symptoms attributed to COVID-19 such as a nagging cough, a sore throat or even shortness of breath could also be possible signs and symptoms of certain types of cancers. It is my advice to the general populace of Zimbabwe to be aware of the COVID-19 symptoms mentioned earlier on and at the same time not to downplay the following seven signs and symptoms that may be suggestive of cancer in general A sore throat that does not heal Nagging cough or hoarseness of voice Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing Thickening or lump in breast or elsewhere Obvious change in a wart or mole

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