Cancer mistaken for coronavirus causes UK woman's death

  • A British mother died from cancer after her symptoms were mistaken for Covid-19
  • She had beaten cancer twice before
  • This mistake highlights that other diseases also need to be considered during the pandemic

Symptoms of other diseases might be missed because of the hyperfocus on Covid-19, as one British family found out the hard way. 

BBC reported that a mother of a five-year-old son had died from cancer, after her symptoms were mistaken for Covid-19.

Fought cancer before

A breast cancer survivor who had beaten the disease twice before, 27-year-old Beth Pattison went to her doctor in March because of a persistent cough. She was told it was probably Covid-19. 

Two months later, she had a telephonic appointment with an oncologist with the same symptoms – and was again told that is was probably Covid-19.

She was finally hospitalised in June where she was treated for pneumonia. Her coronavirus tests – three in total – had all come back negative, and only a week after admission did they investigate other possible causes. 

It turned out that the cancer was back, this time in her lungs and ovaries. But it was too late. She died three days after being diagnosed. 

READ | Reporter thanks eagle-eyed viewer for spotting cancer lump

Family urges cancer checks before coronavirus

Now her family wants the National Health Service (NHS) to ensure that patients with a history of cancer be checked for malignancies before assuming it's the coronavirus. 

"We're not looking to blame any health professional because the care and support she received over four years was second to none and we think what the NHS has done, especially since March when the pandemic came along, has been superb," her father told BBC. "Beth wasn't a victim of Covid, she was a victim of the circumstances caused by Covid." 

Need to remember other diseases

This isn't a unique case. There have been numerous warnings from organisations and scientists that the pandemic is causing common diseases not associated with the coronavirus to be misdiagnosed. 

A case study published in Public Health Emergency COVID-19 Initiative highlighted that healthcare professionals should remain vigilant for symptoms of common diseases, while still being on the lookout for Covid-19.

In this study, a man came in with respiratory failure, chest pain, and fever, which seemed to indicate Covid-19. Unfortunately, his physicians didn't realise that he actually had coronary artery disease.

Hesitance to seek medical care

There's, however, another reason behind missed diagnoses – the fact that many people are hesitant to go to medical facilities for fear of catching the virus.

In the US alone, about 80 000 diagnoses of cancer were missed or delayed in the first half of the year, and it is recommended that provision be made by healthcare providers to also address other diseases.

In a country like South Africa, however, this is a big ask as healthcare professionals are doing their utmost, with resources already stretched thin.

READ MORE | Tips for staying safe - if you really need a face-to-face doctor's visit

Image credit: iStock

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