Research in the March 2022 edition of JNCCN-; Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network examined data from the Ontario Cancer Registry from September 25, 2016 to September 26, 2020 to determine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the number of newly discovered cancer cases. They found that 358,487 adult patients had been re-diagnosed with cancer during this period. The week-to-week diagnosis rate was stable before the pandemic, but decreased 34.3% in March 2020. Thereafter, there was a trend of 1% increase in new diagnoses every week for the rest of the study period.
Our data show that many cancers have gone undetected due to health system disorders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is worrying because a delay in diagnosing cancer is associated with a lower chance of cure. Healthcare providers should encourage patients to obtain their cancer screening if someone has been missing during the pandemic, and should use a low threshold to examine patients with unusual symptoms that may be related to an undiagnosed cancer. “
Antoine Eskander, MD, ScM, ICES, Toronto, Ontario
The decline in new diagnoses was found in both cancer screening – those who have formal screening programs such as cervical cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer (and sometimes lung cancer) – and non-screening cancers. The researchers estimate that approximately 12,600 cancers were not detected between March 15 and September 26, 2020. The largest decreases in diagnoses were found in melanomacervical cancer, endocrine and prostate cancer.
“The pandemic has caused dramatic changes in the health care system, including a worrying decline in cancer screening,” commented Harold Burstein, MD, PhD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who was not involved in this research. “This study is a well-conducted report from Ontario, Canada, where provincial records are available, and it shows a huge decrease in screening for colorectal (colonoscopy), cervical cancer (Pap smear) and breast cancer (mammogram) in the early months of the pandemic. Similar results have been reported at major health centers in North America, Europe and other countries with widespread screening programs. “
Dr. Burstein-; member of the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) Breast Cancer Panel- Continued: “Despite the pandemic, it is crucial that people continue to receive recommended cancer screenings. With the COVID measures that clinics have introduced, it is very safe for people to see their medical staff for routine mammography. “Cell samples and other important tests. Fortunately, our number of screening mammograms here in Boston and many other centers is recovering soon after the 2020 break, and we are doing everything we can to remind people of the importance of regular screening.”
NCCN has also teamed up with cancer groups across the country to share information on the importance and safety of cancer screening. Learn more about “Cancer Will Not Wait Neither Should You” at NCCN.org/resume-screening.