Delays in colorectal cancer (CRC) screening due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic will cause an 11.9% rise in death rates, according to research presented at United European Gastroenterology Week Virtual 2020. 

CRC is Europe’s second largest cause of cancer death, according to the study. Every year, the European Union sees 375,000 new cases of CRC and 170,000 deaths. Early detection is key in CRC survival and the rollout of screening programs across Europe has caused a steady drop in mortality rates. However, due to the pandemic, many of these screening programs have been suspended. 

Investigators used a model to forecast how CRC screening time delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic affected mortality. Using the model, investigators found that moderate delays in screening (7 to 12 months) caused a 3% increase in mortality in advanced stage CRC. A large delay, meaning more than 12 months, caused a 7% increase, according to the study. 

When examining the 5-year survival rates for stage III-IV CRC, the model shows an 11.9% increase in deaths for a greater than 12-month screening delay compared with a 0- to 3-month screening delay. 

"Across the globe, health care systems are facing serious difficulties while dealing with COVID-19 and it is imperative that support is given to the public and patients throughout the crisis, including for high-impact diseases such as colorectal cancer. Health care authorities need to act urgently on how they reorganize activities during COVID-19, without compromising the diagnosis of other high-impact diseases like this research shows," lead author Luigi Ricciardiello, MD, said in the press release. 

Early stage intervention is crucial for positive CRC outcomes, according to the study authors. Changes in lifestyle can also help to mitigate risk. Diets high in processed foods, smoking, and heavy alcohol consumption have all been linked to CRC development. 

REFERENCE:
COVID-related delays to CRC screening causing 11.9% rise in death rates, research reveals [News Release] Vienna, Austria; October 11, 2020. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-10/sh-cdt100520.php. Accessed October 12, 2020.