Health Headlines: Treating cancer in a war zone

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Published: Oct. 26, 2022 at 7:20 AM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Being treated for cancer is tough enough, but imagine undergoing surgery or chemo in a war zone. That’s some of the challenges facing oncologists and patients in Ukraine.

We’ve seen the images and pictures almost every day for months, the shelled-out cities in Ukraine, women and children heading for the border, and men staying behind to fight. That’s where Baltimore oncologist Dr. Vadim Gushchin was invited back in 2012, well before the current war, where he met with leaders in Lugansk to discuss an American-led hospital there.

It was on this trip that Dr. Gushchin says he formed a bond with his Ukrainian counterparts. Now, he still can believe how difficult their situation is.

“I can’t even imagine how difficult it was for them to survive and provide patients patient care.”

Dr. Gushchin says those doctors were texting him when the invasion started. Patients and healthcare workers alike sheltered in hospital basements as oncologists like him began to map out what procedures they could and couldn’t do.

“What if there is no electricity and the treatment is terminated midway? So, what do you do?”

With roads blocked and infrastructure being broken, chemotherapy and radiation supplies became a deep concern. So, some patients were evacuated.

“They decided to outsource higher acuity care to safer places or to send patients to Europe.”

While cancer care and refugees can be tricky, as medical records are hard to access and language can be a barrier, more than 1,000 Ukranian patients are being treated across 18 European countries.