As COVID-19 dies down, undiagnosed cancers emerge

As the COVID-19 pandemic eases in the U.S., so has the fear of visiting a clinical setting. With that has come a wave of progressing cancer diagnoses that slipped through the cracks amid earlier stages of the pandemic, ProPublica reported May 4.

That was the case of Teresa Ruvalcaba, a factory worker in Chicago who avoided visiting the doctor for more than six months because she didn't want to call off work or risk catching the coronavirus. Now, Ms. Ruvalcaba has advanced inflammatory breast cancer. 

"If she would have come six months earlier, it could have been just surgery, chemo and done," Paramjeet "Pam" Khosla, MD, chief of hematology oncology at Mount Sinai in Chicago, told ProPublica. “Now she’s incurable.”

At one point, Dr. Khosla recalled delivering a cancer diagnosis almost a dozen times in one week.

More recently, she counted at least 10 cases of advanced cancer in a single four-week period. All of those patients had told Dr. Khosla they were afraid to seek treatment in a hospital setting amid the pandemic. 

It's a trend experts worry will worsen as more people decide to pick back up with routine screenings, or seek care for a problem that's been bothering them.

The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be nearly 10,000 excess breast and colorectal cancer deaths linked to pandemic-related care delays in both diagnosis and treatment.  

"The longer the pandemic continues, the more significant the impact of the pandemic on cancer outcomes will be," Norman "Ned" Sharpless, MD, director of the NCI, told the news outlet, adding that it could take another few years before the cancer death toll begins to rise. That's because treatment can delay death after diagnosis, Dr. Sharpless explained. 

Further, experts predict the effects of delayed cancer screenings and care will disproportionately hit communities of color, who already face higher cancer death rates, and experienced higher COVID-19 death rates, ProPublica reported. 

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