Cancer Diagnoses Drop By Nearly Half During Coronavirus Outbreak

Doctors diagnosed 46% fewer cases of six common types of cancer during the initial outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the United States, which could lead to nearly 34,000 more deaths, according a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s monthly open access journal.

“While residents have taken to social distancing, cancer does not pause,” the letter in JAMA Network Open said. “The delay in diagnosis will likely lead to presentation at more advanced stages and poorer clinical outcomes.”

The research was conducted by Quest Diagnostics, a clinical laboratory company operating in the United States, Britain, Mexico and Brazil and headquartered in Secaucus, New Jersey.

The study examined mean weekly numbers of newly diagnosed patients with breast, colorectal, lung, pancreatic, gastric and esophageal cancers comparing the baseline period of Jan. 6, 2019-Feb. 29, 2020, to the COVID-19 period of March 1-April 18.

It studied 278 778 patients, 258,598 of them, or 92.8%, from the baseline period and 20,180 (7.8%) from the COVID-19 period.

“During the pandemic, the weekly number fell 46.4% (from 4310 to 2310) for the six cancers combined, with significant declines in all cancer types, ranging from 24.7% for pancreatic cancer (from 271 to 204); to 51.8% for breast cancer (from 2208 to 1064).

The letter pointed to medical organizations recommending postponing non-COVID related treatments, including the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which urged a suspension of “cancer screening procedures that require clinic/center visits, such as screening mammograms and colonoscopy…”

The authors referred to a study published on June 1 that estimated the nearly 34,000 deaths could result.

“Our findings are consistent with previous research, and they call for urgent planning to address the consequences of delayed diagnoses,” authors of the research from Quest said. “Planning may entail more robust digital technology to strengthen clinical telehealth offerings and other patient-clinician interactions, including self-service scheduling across specialties and well-designed collection processes.”

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