Pandemic Lockdown Delays Cancer Diagnosis, Results in Poor Outcomes

Delays in diagnosis and treatment of cancer during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in worse outcomes for some patients, according to recently published data.

Many medical services were suspended across the globe during the first mandatory lockdown in the spring of 2020. Furthermore, many patients were reluctant to come to healthcare facilities for routine screenings or appointments due to fear of being exposed to COVID.

Study: Delaying CRC diagnosis increased tumor burden

A recent study referenced in Medscape analyzed data collected during the enrollment phase for a phase 2 clinical trial in France.

In the analysis, 40 people were screened before the first COVID-19 lockdown in France, and 40 people were screened following the lockdown.

“To our knowledge, this study was the first to assess the association between COVID-19 restrictions and delayed treatment and diagnostic services for a specific cancer,” the researchers noted in Becker’s Hospital Review.

Researchers found that individuals diagnosed with metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) after the lockdown exhibited a burden of tumor tissue cells nearly seven times higher than those diagnosed before the pandemic.

In addition, the study showed the median survival decreased from 20 months to just less than 15 months in patients with the higher tumor burden, according to Medscape.

“I think that reasons for diagnosis delays are similar in the US as in France,” said lead author Alain Thierry, Ph.D., director of research, Institut de Recherche en Cancérologie de Montpellier, France in the Medscape article. “They imply individual reluctance or fears or difficulty of carrying out a screening test or to visit a medical doctor or an oncologist during the lockdown period.”

Don’t delay colon cancer screening

Delaying treatment and diagnostic services, like colonoscopy, can lead to poor outcomes for colorectal cancer patients.

“Delayed screening very likely leads to advanced cancers, and it is highly likely that the pandemic raised the threshold that patients would seek medical care for subacute symptoms,” said Theodore S. Hong, MD, director of gastrointestinal services at Mass General Cancer Center, Boston, Massachusetts in Medscape. “This is leading to many patients presenting with advanced gastrointestinal cancers.”

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The American Cancer Society’s recommendation for baseline colon cancer screenings is 45 for all adults at average risk for colon cancer.

Although there are other screening tests, colonoscopy is the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening because the procedure both detects and removes precancerous polyps before they become cancer.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires both private insurers and Medicare to cover the costs of colorectal cancer screening tests. To avoid any confusion, contact your health insurance agent or employer’s human resources department.