Cancer Screenings Plummet During Pandemic, Study Finds

July 30, 2020
Research shows 89.2 percent decrease in breast cancer screening and 84.5 percent reduction in colorectal screenings in April 2020 compared to previous year

A recent study found that cancer patient encounters fell precipitously in January to April 2020 compared to the same months in 2019, with some cancer screenings falling by almost 90 percent.

An article based on the research, The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Cancer Patient Encounters was published in JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics.

"These startling results do not bode well for the future," said Jack London, Ph.D., professor emeritus of Cancer Biology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, in a statement. "Oncologists will likely be seeing later stage patients initially, which will significantly impact patient treatment and prognosis." The most significant finding was an 89.2 percent decrease in breast cancer screening and an 84.5 percent reduction in colorectal screenings in April 2020. Other cancer related encounters had decreased from between 39 to 75 percent year-over-year.

“Tracking the eventual rebound in these trends in the coming months will be important for predicting how many patients continue to delay screening because of concerns related to the pandemic,” the article notes.

The study used the TriNetX platform to analyze de-identified, relevant, up-to-date data of over 28 million patients from 20 U.S. healthcare institutions. Using this COVID and Cancer Research Network (CCRN) and data from University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust in the U.K., the authors compared cancer patient cohorts pre-COVID (January-April 2019) to the same months in 2020. Cohorts were generated for all neoplasm patients (malignant, benign, in situ, and of unspecified behavior), all new incidence neoplasm patients (first encounter), exclusively malignant neoplasm patients, and new incidence malignant neoplasm patients. Additional analyses were performed on patients with selected cancers as well as patients having cancer screenings.