Cancer Cases Expected To Rise Due To Screening Setbacks

Due to screening delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer cases are expected to rise. Cancer is currently the second leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease.

Researchers from Boston University have created a predictive model to compute the amount of missed lung, breast, and colorectal cancer cases. They compared cancer rates during the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset in 2020 to pre-pandemic years from 2010 to 2019. Their findings were published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons on May 25.

With cancer cases expected to increase, senior author of the Boston University study, Teviah E. Sachs, M.D., hopes the data provides insight into the future for medical care providers.

"While the medical system as a whole experienced an incredible burden from the COVID-19 pandemic, now we’re going to see a much different burden present itself due to delays in cancer screening," Sachs says in a press release. "With this study, we sought to illustrate with data how we could forecast these likely future trends related to screenable cancer incidence."

For the study, a total of 1,707,395 lung, 2,200,505 breast, and 1,066,138 colorectal cancer patients were observed. Researchers received their patient information from the National Cancer Database (NCDB), collecting more than 70% of all cancer cases within the U.S.

Boston University investigators noticed substantial differences between the cancer rates in 2020 versus the numbers from 2010 to 2019 for the three different types of cancer. According to their results, colorectal cancer incidence decreased by 18.6%, lung cancer incidence by 18.1%, and breast cancer incidence by 14.6%. Researchers note this is the largest study to observe missed diagnosed colon, lung, and breast cancer cases during the COVID-19 pandemic

The incidence for all these cancers decreased, but there’s no reason to believe that cancer incidence dropped during the pandemic in 2020. The data we observe is not likely due to decreasing incidence rates, but I think more likely reflective of missing cancer diagnoses. These missed diagnoses are likely going to lead to delays in treatment and upstaging of disease in the coming years.

– First author and general surgery resident at Boston Medical Center, Kelsey S. Romatoski, M.D.

According to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2023, over 1.9 million new cancer cases are expected for this year. Around 609,820 deaths from cancer are expected in the U.S. in 2023. The American Cancer Society's projections do not account for the expected increase in cancer patients due to screening delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent study found the COVID-19 pandemic caused routine screenings for breast and colorectal cancer to decline by over 90% for individuals aged 46 to 64. Now more than ever, it is important to get those delayed cancer screenings scheduled.

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