Cancer Diagnoses Drop, COVID Drives Down Screenings

TUESDAY, Aug. 4, 2020 (HealthDay News) — As COVID-19 continues to impact nearly all aspects of American health care, researchers warn that the United States has seen a troubling drop in cancer diagnoses since the pandemic began.
The drop is not being attributed to a downturn in cancer incidence, but rather a COVID-driven reluctance to get screened.
“Our research found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, between March 1 and April 18, there was a 46% decrease in diagnoses of the six common cancer types we looked at, which included breast, colorectal, lung, pancreatic, gastric and esophageal cancers,” said study author Dr. Harvey Kaufman.
But, “this decrease in diagnoses was unfortunately not the result of a drop in cancer rates,” stressed Kaufman, who is senior medical director of medical informatics at Quest Diagnostics in Secaucus, N.J. Instead, it appears to be the direct consequence of public health guidance that was promoted during the early days of the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and many medical professional organizations recommended that cancer screening — and other health prevention services — should be postponed unless the risks outweighed the benefits,” Kaufman noted. “This guidance resulted in patients avoiding the doctor’s office and fewer cancer screenings, which affected the diagnosis and treatment rates of cancers and other life-threatening conditions.”
To track cancer diagnosis rates, the team reviewed cancer screening medical codes for almost 279,000 patients who underwent testing for six cancers between January 2018 and April 18, 2020.
The vast majority (75%) were women, at an average age of 66.
The investigators broke up the study period into two phases: pre-COVID-19 (Jan. 6, 2019 through Feb. 29, 2020) and COVID-19 (March 1 through April 18, 2020).
Once stacked up against each other, the two periods revealed a 46% drop in weekly diagnoses among all six cancers combined.
Some cancer screenings saw a more precipitous drop than others, with breast cancer diagnoses experiencing the biggest plunge (52%). But even the smallest dip was significant, as pancreatic cancer diagnoses fell off by almost 25%, the findings showed.

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