Irrfan Khan’s death is a reminder that medical emergencies other than COVID-19 demand our urgent attention too
In March 2018, Khan was diagnosed with a near-fatal type of cancer, a high-grade neuroendocrine tumour.
Actor Irrfan Khan, 53, died early today, reminding us that even during this COVID-19 pandemic there are people in desperate need of medical attention for diseases other than the new infection.
Since March, hospitals and clinics across India have been advising patients against coming in for regular checkups, elective procedures and ailments that don't seem to be life-threatening or urgent. This is, of course, done to reduce the chances of nosocomial or hospital-acquired coronavirus infection. However, this presents a quandary for patients in need of regular medical attention, like cancer survivors as well as for doctors who know the importance of catching the early signs of a disease to improve the outcome.
The actor was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital on 28 April 2020 in Mumbai due to a colon infection. His spokesperson, according to media reports, released a statement mentioning the fact that though Khan was admitted to the hospital, he is “still fighting the battle.” News of the actor’s passing was revealed when director Shoojit Sircar — who directed Khan in Piku — tweeted his condolences.
Known for his role in films like The Lunchbox, Hindi Medium, The Life of Pi, Jurassic World and The Amazing Spiderman, the actor is survived by his wife and two sons. His mother had passed away this Sunday, aged 95. Khan had paid his last respects over video conference because of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing lockdown in the country.
In March 2018, Khan was diagnosed with a near-fatal type of cancer, a high-grade neuroendocrine tumour. The actor spent most of 2018 in London getting treated for this condition. He returned to India after an entire year of treatment and started shooting his last film Angrezi Medium.
Neuroendocrine tumours (NET) are a type of tumours that begin in the specialised cells in the body called the neuroendocrine cells. These tumours can be benign or malignant and they act as both nerve cells as well as endocrine cells - which means they can produce hormones. A neuroendocrine tumour mostly develops in the digestive tract, thymus, lungs or appendix. It can also develop inside or outside the pancreas, the abdominal organ that is responsible for producing insulin.
Most commonly, neuroendocrine tumours grow slowly, though they may grow quickly too.
The symptoms of the tumour will depend on its size and location and whether it has metastasised (started spreading to healthy cells and organs) yet. However, according to the National Center for Advancing Translational Science, NIH, USA, a NET may not show any symptoms at all until it has spread or hampered the function of an organ. Symptomatic NETs may show up in the form of the effects of the increased hormones, but again these symptoms would depend on where the tumour has occurred.
In case of NET of the intestine or colon, the person experiences nausea, stomach pain, bloating, vomiting, diarrhoea and cramps in the abdomen. This happens because the tumour blocks the intestine or causes the intestine to twist slightly. The symptoms may not be persistent and may come and go. If the tumour becomes too big, the symptoms would exacerbate since the intestine would be blocked completely. This type of tumour may also cause intestinal bleeding and inflammation of the pancreas.
The condition is treated through both surgical and non-surgical methods, which depend on the location and size of the tumour and what cells it has affected.
In an interview to Associated Press in August 2018, the actor had put a positive spin even on his fight against the neuroendocrine tumour. “There are challenges which life throws at you. But I have started believing in the way this condition has tested me, really, really tested me in all aspects — physical, emotional and spiritual. It has put me in a rapture state. Initially, I was shaken. I didn’t know. I was very, very vulnerable. But slowly, there is another way to look at things that is much more powerful and much more productive and much more healthy and I just want people to believe that nature is much more trustworthy and one must trust that,” he had said.
The actor, whose latest film Angrezi Medium became available on online streaming service Disney Plus recently, had other projects in the pipeline, too.
For more information, read our article on Neuroendocrine Tumour.
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