Cancer Detection, Surgical Treatments Negatively Impacted by COVID-19 Pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in declines in cancer detection and surgical treatments, according to a study published in JNCI: The Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The investigators found that population-based cancer registries showed a 10.2% decline in real-time electronic pathology reports in 2020 compared to 2019.

The researchers observed declines across all age groups, including children under 18 years of age. Percentage declines were the highest for lung and colorectal cancers, with a decrease of 17.4% and 12.0%, respectively. Breast and prostate cancers were the next most serious declines, with percentage decreases of 9.0% and 5.8%, respectively.

“We observed substantial declines in 2020 among cancers with effective screening tests, including breast and colorectal cancers, as well as across cancer sites and age groups without effective screening tests, including cancers among children and young adults,” said Robin Yabroff, PhD, MBA, of the American Cancer Society, in a press release. “Declines across cancer sites and age groups suggest that in addition to delays in cancer screening, there were also delays in routine well-child and primary care, evaluation of signs and symptoms, and treatment initiation for most cancers.”

The study found that the patterns of decline seen in cancer care were similar to those seen in other fields of health care, with the greatest difference seen in April 2020 compared to April 2019. This decline in care aligns with the first peak in COVID-19 mortality rates in Georgia and Louisiana, and the declines in pathology reports seen in August, November, and December 2020 also coincided with COVID-19 mortality rate peaks. According to the investigators, the number of pathology reports across all of 2020 never consistently exceeded those in 2019 after these initial declines.

“The findings suggest substantial delays in diagnosis and treatment services for cancers during the pandemic, and that ongoing evaluation can inform public health efforts to minimize any lasting adverse effects of the pandemic on cancer diagnosis, stage, treatment, and survival,” the authors wrote. “As data become available, evaluation of the effects of the pandemic on cancer stage at diagnosis and survival will be important, as will evaluation of racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities in access to care and outcomes.”


Study finds adverse effects of COVID-19 pandemic on cancer detection and surgical treatments [news release]. EurekAlert; June 28, 2021. Accessed June 29, 2021.

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