A consequence of the covid-19 pandemic: Nearly 10 million cancer screenings in the United States failed to happen, according to a study published in JAMA Oncology.1
Researchers including the study author, Ronald Chen, MD, MPH, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology and associate director of Health Equity at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, are calling for public attention to this problem to prevent cancer deaths.
The study shows that cancer screenings across the US were greatly impacted by the covid-19 pandemic, with 9.4 million cancer screenings left undone. The study examined data on three cancers that are most impacted by early screenings: breast, colorectal, and prostate. All three types of screenings declined sharply, with a 90% decline in breast cancer screenings in April 2020.
The consequence of millions of people missing cancer screenings because of the covid pandemic is a delay in the detection of cancer, which results in cancer progressing to a more advanced stage.
“Unfortunately, by causing cancellations of appointments and cancer screenings, covid will indirectly cause an increase in cancer deaths – another negative consequence of covid that has not yet received much public attention,” Chen says.
Chen notes that it’s critical for the public and health care providers to understand how important it is to get cancer screenings back on track.
“There needs to be a concerted public health educational campaign across the country to reinforce the importance of cancer screening,” he says. “Hospitals across the country also need to devote effort to contact patients to reschedule canceled screening tests, in order to minimize the delay in screening and cancer diagnoses from the missed tests.”
Chen’s study also showed that telehealth visits, which were widely used for the first time during the pandemic, were associated with better screening rates. “Telehealth has a measurable positive effect on whether patients get their cancer screenings,” Chen says. “This study also justifies a continued use of telehealth even after the pandemic.”
- Chen RC, Haynes K, Du S, Barron J, Katz AJ. Association of Cancer Screening Deficit in the United States With the COVID-19 Pandemic [published online ahead of print, 2021 Apr 29]. JAMA Oncol. 2021;10.1001/jamaoncol.2021.0884. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2021.0884