Covid-19 Pandemic Lockdowns created a 'ticking cancer timebomb'
Lockdowns have created a ‘ticking cancer timebomb’: Doctors warn it’ll be YEARS before death rates return to pre-pandemic levels – because hospitals focused on Covid
- Covid impeded cancer screening in early 2020 leading to missed diagnoses
- Diagnoses of breast, lung, colorectal, thyroid, prostate, pancreatic cancers fell
- READ MORE: Victims of America’s epidemic of colon cancers in young people
The US could be on the precipice of a spike in cancer deaths in the years to come after preventative screening and early diagnoses plummeted during the pandemic.
Experts are concerned a dip in diagnostic screening in 2020 likely resulted in countless missed opportunities to treat cancers early, which would have increased the odds of a person’s survival, potentially leading to a spike in cancer deaths in the coming years.
The National Cancer Institute, a government body, collected far fewer reports of breast, lung, colorectal, thyroid, prostate, and pancreatic cancers than what would normally be expected between March and May 2020 due to disruptions in healthcare.
The declines in diagnoses were largest for female breast, lung, and colorectal cancers, types that are typically diagnosed through screening measures that millions of Americans missed.
Government cancer experts now fear that it will take years for Americans to get back on track with their preventative healthcare.
In the above graphs, researchers have mapped out the observed cancer case count in 2020 compared with their projected 2020 case count, or an observed-to-expected ratio (O/E). For all types of cancer included in the study, April 2020 was the month with the lowest ratio
The number of cases of male thyroid and pancreatic cancers were in line with what would be expected. In women with thyroid cancer, there were significantly fewer cases than expected
When the first Covid outbreak gripped the country in early 2020, the vast majority of Americans were encouraged to quarantine at home in an effort to protect themselves from infection.
At the same time, healthcare systems curtailed many of its elective care services to free up resources to deal with an influx of new Covid patients.
Nearly 10 million cancer screening appointments were missed from January to July of 2020 alone. The mountain of missed screenings translated to an 11 percent increase in the number of patients diagnosed with cancer that had already spread to other parts of the body that year.
Dr Monica Bertagnolli, director of the National Cancer Institute, said: ‘These missed opportunities for early cancer detection are alarming, particularly for those vulnerable populations that continue to face significant barriers in accessing cancer care.
‘This report highlights the urgency in helping all Americans get back on track with their cancer care so that we can avoid unnecessary deaths and complications from cancer.’
The NCI led the largest study to date using data from central government cancer registries to measure Covid’s impact.
Researchers at the NCI, along with those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries came together to analyze cancer case data spanning 2015 to 2020.
They also estimated the expected number of new cancer diagnoses in 2020 based on past years’ data. But actual figures in 2020 showed there were fewer newly diagnosed cases or breast, lung, colorectal, thyroid, prostate and pancreatic cancers than expected.
Breast and lung cancer screening down by up to 25%, study warns
The researchers projected that in 2020, 7,147 cases of localized colorectal cancer cases would have been diagnosed. Only 5,983 actually were.
There were also 4,000 fewer diagnoses of localized breast cancer cases as well as 1,267 fewer localized lung cancer cases and 3,447 fewer localized prostate cancer diagnoses.
There were also 470 fewer than-expected cases of thyroid cancer and 115 fewer cases of pancreatic cancer.
The authors of the study said: ‘Therefore, the survival benefits of early detection may be limited for a large segment of patients with cancer.’
Their findings, which were published in the American Cancer Society journal Cancer, align with previous studies into Covid’s impact on disease screening and prevention.
A study published last month in the journal Lancet Oncology found rates of new cancer patients fell by around 15 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, the equivalent of around 125,000 fewer diagnoses.
The biggest decline in diagnoses was among stage 1 cancers, or the earliest phase of the disease. Missing these runs the risk of the cancer spreading by the time it is caught, making it much harder to treat.
Dr Karen E. Knudsen, CEO of the American Cancer Society said: ‘We are deeply concerned about the implications of delayed diagnosis, which is typically associated with more aggressive disease and worse outcomes.
‘It is imperative to ensure that we make up for lost ground on finding cancers early, and thereby maximize opportunities for effective treatment and survival.’
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