Study shows sharp decline in cancer diagnosis during first COVID-19 surge

Study shows sharp decline in cancer diagnosis during first COVID-19 surge

Updated: 11:00 AM EST Jan 14, 2021

COVID-19 restrictions delayed the diagnosis and treatment of many cancers, according to a new study released Thursday by Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.Researchers said they documented a “substantial decline” in cancer and precancer diagnoses during the first peak of the pandemic because of a drop in the number of cancer screening tests performed.Researchers tracked how many people underwent cancer screening tests — mammograms, colonoscopies, Papanicolaou (Pap) tests for cervical cancer, prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests and low-dose computer tomography (CT) — and how many were diagnosed with cancer.The data covered four three-month periods: March 2 to June 2, 2020, the first peak of the pandemic; the previous three months; the subsequent three months and the same three months in 2019.Researchers said 15,453 patients underwent screening exams in the March-June time frame, compared to 64,269 in the previous three months and 60,344 in the same three months of 2019. Screening levels largely recovered in the three-month post-peak period, to 51,944. The decrease in screening tests was accompanied by decreases in diagnoses of the cancers detected by those tests, researchers said. They said that had the same number of people been screened during the peak period as in the previous three months, approximately 1,438 additional cancers and precancerous growths would have been diagnosed.Dr. Ziad Bakouny of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a co-first author of the study, said the falloff in diagnoses, though temporary, is a source of concern because cancers detected at an early stage are often easier to treat than those that aren’t discovered until they’ve had time to grow and spread. While the study focused on a single, large health care system in one part of the country, emerging data suggests its findings have relevance for other regions as well, Bakouny said.

COVID-19 restrictions delayed the diagnosis and treatment of many cancers, according to a new study released Thursday by Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

Researchers said they documented a “substantial decline” in cancer and precancer diagnoses during the first peak of the pandemic because of a drop in the number of cancer screening tests performed.

Researchers tracked how many people underwent cancer screening tests — mammograms, colonoscopies, Papanicolaou (Pap) tests for cervical cancer, prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests and low-dose computer tomography (CT) — and how many were diagnosed with cancer.

The data covered four three-month periods: March 2 to June 2, 2020, the first peak of the pandemic; the previous three months; the subsequent three months and the same three months in 2019.

Researchers said 15,453 patients underwent screening exams in the March-June time frame, compared to 64,269 in the previous three months and 60,344 in the same three months of 2019. Screening levels largely recovered in the three-month post-peak period, to 51,944.

The decrease in screening tests was accompanied by decreases in diagnoses of the cancers detected by those tests, researchers said. They said that had the same number of people been screened during the peak period as in the previous three months, approximately 1,438 additional cancers and precancerous growths would have been diagnosed.

Dr. Ziad Bakouny of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a co-first author of the study, said the falloff in diagnoses, though temporary, is a source of concern because cancers detected at an early stage are often easier to treat than those that aren’t discovered until they’ve had time to grow and spread.

While the study focused on a single, large health care system in one part of the country, emerging data suggests its findings have relevance for other regions as well, Bakouny said.

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