COVID-19 Pandemic delayed cancer diagnosis

The researchers found a decline in cancer detection procedures and also fewer new diagnoses of cancer in 2020.

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COVID-19 pandemic put many restrictions on various activities of human life. One of them was a restriction on accessing medical facilities. This restriction has caused disruptions in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other conditions.

The findings published by Wiley online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society indicates that pandemic likely caused a delay in cancer detection,  and ultimately leads to a worse prognosis for patients 

For the study, a team led by Brajesh K. Lal, MD, of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Maryland Health Care System and the University of Maryland School of Medicine, examined data from more than 9 million US veterans at 1,244 VA medical facilities.

From 2018 through 2020, there were 3.9 million procedures used to diagnose cancer and 251,647 new cancers diagnosed. The researchers found a decline in cancer detection procedures and also fewer new diagnoses of cancer in 2020.

Colonoscopies (to detect colorectal cancer) in 2020 decreased by 45% compared with annual averages in 2018 through 2019, whereas prostate biopsies (to detect prostate cancer), chest computed tomography scans (to detect lung cancer), and cystoscopies (to detect bladder cancer) decreased by 29%, 10%, and 21%, respectively.

Colonoscopies had the largest deficits across the country: in 29% of states, fewer than half of colonoscopies were performed in 2020 compared with earlier years.

New cancer diagnoses in 2020 decreased by 13% to 23%, depending on the cancer type.

“The disruption in non-emergency health care during the peak of the pandemic was intentional and necessary,” said Dr. Lal.

“As we enter the recovery phase, we hope that our work will help physicians, hospitals, and health care organizations anticipate the extent to which they have fallen behind in their efforts to diagnose new cancers. It will also help them allocate requisite resources and time to re-engage with patients.”

Journal Reference

  1. Brian R. Englum MD, MHS, Nikhil K. Prasad MD, Rachel E. Lake MSPH, Minerva Mayorga-Carlin MPH, Douglas J. Turner MD, Tariq Siddiqui MS, John D. Sorkin MD, PhD, Brajesh K. Lal MD; Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on diagnosis of new cancers: A national multicenter study of the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. American Cancer Society; DOI: 10.1002/cncr.34011