Oncologists finding more cases of advanced cancers following COVID-19, say deferred screenings are to blame

by Laura Mize · Oct 15th, 2020 3:55 pm
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Last Updated Oct 16th, 2020 at 7:41 pm

A major provider of oncology services in the United States reports increased levels of advanced cancer cases among its patients newly diagnosed with breast cancer and lung cancer.

The two forms of cancer are among the most common in the United States, and experts say coronavirus-related delays in screenings and regular medical care have led to more dangerous situations for people just learning they have these and other forms of cancer.

The oncology provider, 21st Century Oncology, noted that through August of this year, 18% of its newly diagnosed breast cancer patients had an advanced form of the disease. Over the past five years, only 11% to 12.5% of such patients had advanced cancer. Advanced cases were up for lung cancer, too.

Data from insurance giant United Healthcare, Inc. showed nearly a million fewer cervical cancer screenings, mammograms, and colorectal screenings from January through August 2020 than over the same period of 2019. Analyses by other companies show significant drops in biopsies, visits for new oncology patients, and lab results showing just-found cases of cancer. It will all add up to more people who find themselves with difficult-to-treat cases and to more deaths, industry leaders say.

"We undoubtedly will have delays in diagnoses, and more advanced cancers," said the chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, William Cance.

Norman Sharpless, head of the National Cancer Institute, said the pandemic will lead to an increase in cancer deaths.

"There's really almost no way that doesn't turn into increased mortality," he said of missed diagnostic opportunities caused by facility shutdowns and patient fear of going to a medical facility.

Earlier this year, the NCI predicted 10,000 more people would die of colon cancer or breast cancer in the next 10 years due to coronavirus-delayed screenings. Sharpless told the Wall Street Journal recently that this estimate was probably low.


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