Delaying cancer care could spur new public health crisis, cancer institute chief says

As the COVID-19 pandemic slows cancer care and research, the director of Bethesda, Md.-based National Cancer Institute is worried that the country may trade one public health crisis for another involving cancer patients, STAT News reports.

NCI Director Ned Sharpless, MD, told STAT that the institute is "very worried" about the consequences of delaying care for cancer patients. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on cancer care have been notable, with people across the country avoiding screenings for cancer, cancer treatment being postponed or slowed and patient enrollment in cancer clinical trials seeing a steep drop.

The NCI created a model that examines trends in breast and colorectal cancer. This model predicts that there will be 10,000 more deaths in the U.S. over the next decade as a result of delays in diagnosis and care because of the pandemic, STAT reports.

"We think that [mortality] estimate we provided is very conservative and likely to grow if we continue to postpone screening treatment and other cancer care," Dr. Sharpless told STAT.

Dr. Sharpless said he believes now is the time to restart cancer care, as many hospitals are seeing coronavirus case numbers drop. As more information about the new coronavirus and how it spreads becomes available, healthcare organizations can make better decisions about testing, wearing masks, social distancing and other measures, he said.

"We can open hospitals and worry about a second wave. I think it's possible to do both. We have to," he said, according to STAT. "To do otherwise, we're going to trade different public health emergencies. So I think we can't delay cancer care forever."

Read the full story here.


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