Dr. Darren Brenner, an esteemed epidemiologist, shares, “The profound and far-reaching measures implemented during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta undeniably disrupted cancer care. While treatment for cancer and urgent surgeries received priority amidst procedure delays and cancellations, the provision of preventive and diagnostic services suffered significant setbacks.”
The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, examined survival rates of three patient groups diagnosed during different time periods. Dr. Brenner clarifies, “We compared the rates between January 2018 and March 2019, March 2019 and March 2020, and March 2020 and December 2020, further dividing the last period into a ‘state of emergency’ phase and a post-SOE phase.”
During the “state of emergency” phase (March 16 to June 15, 2020), a staggering decrease in new cancer diagnoses was observed. The numbers plummeted by 43% for melanoma, 36% for colorectal and prostate cancers, and 33% for breast cancer. However, in the post-SOE phase (June 16 to December 15, 2020), the diagnoses gradually increased by 9%, 8%, and 10% per month, respectively. Strikingly, certain cancers like bladder, kidney, lung, and cervical did not exhibit a decline in diagnoses during this period.
Dr. Brenner highlights the worrisome implications, stating, “The most significant reduction in diagnoses occurred among early-stage breast and colorectal cancers, suggesting that decreased screening services during the initial wave of pandemic-related restrictions led to delayed diagnoses for asymptomatic individuals. These findings underscore the crucial role of screening services in detecting cancer at an early stage and preventing late-stage diagnoses.”
The study further reveals that patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma during the pandemic period in 2020 experienced poorer one-year survival rates compared to those diagnosed in 2018. However, by December 2020, the rate of diagnoses had returned to levels more aligned with the pre-SOE period.
These findings align with similar studies conducted in the United Kingdom, United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, and other parts of Canada. Dr. Johnson, a renowned oncologist, shares, “Ontario witnessed a staggering 34% drop in new cancer diagnoses in April 2020, while Manitoba experienced a 23% reduction during the same period. Quebec also reported an estimated 15% reduction in cancer diagnoses during the first year of the pandemic.”
A Call for Enhanced Cancer Care:
Concluding on a sobering note, the authors emphasize the pressing need for cancer care to become more efficient and expand capacity to mitigate the long-term repercussions of the pandemic on cancer outcomes. Dr. Brenner implores, “We must urgently address the impact of the pandemic on cancer care and redouble our efforts to ensure optimal screening services and timely diagnoses for improved patient outcomes.”