An analysis published in JAMA Network Open found a nearly 50 percent drop in confirmed cancer cases in the U.S. in March and April,media reported. In response, experts warned that these delayed diagnoses could lead to a surge in avoidable cancer deaths in the coming years. The analysis was carried out by researchers at Quest Diagnostics.
Quest Diagnostics, a large clinical testing company, counts the weekly tests doctors conducted on six common cancers (breast, colorectal, lung, pancreatic, stomach and esophageal) between January 2018 and April 2020.
As of March 1 this year, Quest Labs found an average of 4,310 new cancer cases per week. During the New Crown pandemic in March/April, the number of new cases per week dropped to 2,310. Among them, breast cancer diagnoses showed the most significant decline, with a 52 percent decline in the early stages of the pandemic.
This is clearly just one company’s data and involves only six common cancers, but these conclusions reflect several other recent studies from around the world.
A study conducted in the Netherlands in the early days of the pandemic found that the incidence of cancer in the Netherlands fell by 40 per cent at the peak of the pandemic. Cancer Research UK found that there had been a 75 per cent drop in urgent cancer diagnoses referred from GPs in the past few months. In Victoria, Australia, a report shows a drop in new cancer diagnoses by about 30 per cent during local confinement.
Why is this all important? The reason is, as the Quest Diagnostics authors put it – “cancer doesn’t stop.” Delays in cancer diagnosis can only lead to the discovery of diseases at a later stage, leading to poor clinical outcomes and an increased burden on the health care system.
“Diagnosis delay is critical to the prognosis of many cancers,” said two cancer researchers at the University of Melbourne. For example, a patient with stage i lung cancer who delays diagnosis by about two months will be diagnosed with stage 2 lung cancer, which has a significant impact on overall survival. But it has also changed the need for broader surgery, radiotherapy and systemic medication. “
The downstream consequences of these delayed diagnosis and discontinuation of treatment are difficult to quantify. Cancer deaths in England could rise by 20 per cent over the next 12 months, an early analysis suggests. That means more than 6,000 people will die, and it will only consider new cancer diagnoses. Another study estimates that more than 33,000 avoidable cancer deaths will occur next year.
Looking ahead, medical practitioners around the world will face enormous challenges. The impact of the new coronapneumonia epidemic on the overall health of the world’s population in the coming years will need attention. It’s not just a game to catch a disease that’s not being diagnosed, it’s also a game to improve the efficiency of existing services.
“It’s not enough to talk about starting selective therapy again,” the university’s researchers at the University of Melbourne wrote. Instead, we need to analyze the potential impact of COVID-19 on delayed cancer diagnosis and prioritize the need for cancer health services to maximize survival and quality of life. “