Oncologist Eva Vecvagare: “Covid-19 is especially dangerous for lung cancer patients”

“Particular care should be taken with Covid-19 in chronic patients, including oncology patients. During this time, think even more about your health, strictly adhering to self-isolation. Visits to an oncologist do not need to be canceled, but please also spare your doctor and move your scheduled appointment if you have experienced Covid-19-specific symptoms, have been abroad or have been in contact with someone outside Latvia or who has had the disease has been confirmed. We have as many doctors as there are, and we all have our hands full. If the health care staff falls ill, unfortunately it will also refer to our ability to provide treatment for chronic diseases, ”emphasizes Dr. Eva Vecvagare

Before the planned visit to the oncologist, it is recommended to contact the specific medical institution and find out whether there are any current changes in the procedure of admitting patients.

In Latvia, lung cancer is most often detected – in almost 40% of cases – in the last stage, when metastases have already developed. According to the Center for Disease Prevention and Control, less than 4% of patients diagnosed with stage IV cancer live longer than 5 years. In previous years, only 14% of patients in Latvia who were diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer lived for more than a year.

According to a study conducted by the European Lung Cancer Organization, in 2019 Latvia had a good situation in the field of lung cancer diagnostics compared to other European countries. Radiation therapy options for lung cancer patients were also in line with the EU average. However, in the case of metastatic lung cancer, good diagnosis and radiation therapy alone are not enough – drug therapy is also needed. According to the research data, Latvia has so far had the lowest availability of state-reimbursed medicines among European countries, with Poland and Romania also making concessions.

Since March 2020, the situation in Latvia has significantly improved, and the range of patients who have access to treatment in accordance with European guidelines has been expanded. In addition to existing EGFR target therapy, two groups of patients with specific biomarkers can now receive the drug: appropriate target therapy is available for the ALK mutation, and immunotherapy for patients with PD-L1 above 50%. In general, it is currently possible to treat almost half of patients with metastatic lung cancer in Latvia.

The list of reimbursable medicines has been supplemented with important medicines for the treatment of lung cancer, which can prolong the patient’s survival for several years, as well as significantly improve the quality of life. Studies show that 29.6% of patients with stage IV cancer live more than 5 years on the new immunotherapy medicine.

“In oncology, prolonging the life of a metastatic patient by months is an achievement, but now we have the opportunity in Latvia to give our patients with ALK mutation drugs that allow them to live even years longer by taking pills at home. They have significantly fewer side effects and you only need to see a doctor every three months. This is an invaluable benefit for patients and their families, ”comments oncologist chemist Eva Vecvagare on the changes to the list of reimbursable medicines.

“The inclusion of these drugs in the list of state reimbursable drugs provides an opportunity for many dozens of lung cancer patients to prolong their lives qualitatively, even by several years.” welcomes Harry Gals, head of the Society of Lung Cancer Patients and Relatives.

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