Experts renew concerns over delayed cancer diagnoses

Screenings that were delayed due to COVID-19 are likely to contribute to an exponential increase in cancer diagnosis totals over the next few years, experts say.

During the pandemic, while COVID-19 cases climbed, many chose to delay routine screenings and appointments to avoid catching the virus, but now those put-off appointments are catching up to them — and to the healthcare system.

To quantify just how many cases may have been missed, researchers from Boston University compared pre-pandemic diagnosis levels for certain cancers to 2020 incidents. They found that there were 18.1 percent fewer diagnoses of lung cancer, 14.6 percent fewer for breast cancer, and 18.2 percent fewer for colorectal cancer.

"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," Kelsey Romatoski, MD, author of the study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons and general surgery resident at Boston Medical Center said in a statement. "These missed diagnoses are likely going to lead to delays in treatment and upstaging of disease in the coming years."

Their findings suggest there may be many who "currently harbor undiagnosed cancers" they wrote. The delay is particularly concerning to healthcare workers because an influx of future cases and treatments all at once could overburden an already strained system.


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