The Coronavirus-induced lockdown prevented screening for cancer patients across the US. This led to undiagnosed malignancies in many cases, followed by advanced cancers due to lack of screenings.
Rising Cases Of Advanced Cancers Due To Lack Of Screening During The Pandemic
Last year, the surging Covid-19 waved across the US leaving millions affected and several thousand dead. Businesses across the globe were shut down, severely impacting the economy. Nursing homes, clinics and testing labs were also shut down, which resulted in a drastic decline in the number of screenings across the country.
Ms Lowery, a 59 yr-old North Carolina resident, had her annual mammogram appointment canceled last March, with no date for rescheduling. She finally got an appointment in October, by which time she had developed a lump beneath her arm. IN November, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer and started her Chemotherapy sessions with a double mastectomy this month. Dr Patel, who was amongst the doctors who had treated Ms. Lowery, affirmed with the view that her cancer could have been prevented if it was detected last May or June.
Studies have shown that the number of patients screened or diagnosed with cancer fell during the initial phase of the lockdown. As per research data from Epic Health Research Network, screenings for breast, cervical and colon cancers were more than 30% lesser than the pre-pandemic level. The data also revealed a considerable drop in the number of screenings made compared to 2019, with the difference being in hundreds of thousands.
There are several medicare reports which point in the same direction. Another analysis conducted by Avalere health showed that the testing levels, even in November, were 25% lower than in 2019. Biopsies used to diagnose cancer dropped by about one-third in number. These findings by the consultancy firm were for the Community Oncology Alliance, a conglomerate of cancer specialists.
Dr Chris Mast, Vice-President of the clinical informatics for Epic, an organization that creates electronic health records in the country, also resonated with the view that the country still needed to catch up with the cancer advancements due to lack of screenings.
Even though mammograms and colonoscopies have increased in recent months, several US citizens remain undiagnosed for cancer. Many cancer specialists have said that they fear that patients who are coming in for treatment may already be at an advanced stage of the disease.
The Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute president, Dr Lucio N. Gordan, claimed that the oncology sector in the country is witnessing patients with advanced-stage cancers, particularly breast cancer and colorectal cancer. The Oncology Group president has dedicated himself to finding if the missed screenings during the pandemic left more cancer patients suffering from advanced stages of the disease.
Patients also found it hard to get appointments when the lockdown was eased, and clinics started to re-open due to heavy demand. Many patients also skipped testing due to fears of getting infected or not being able to afford tests due to the coronavirus induced unemployment.
Across the US, almost every multi-speciality hospital became a Covid treatment centre, thus making other patients reluctant to get their treatment done due to fears of getting infected.
During the pandemic, the healthcare sector made use of telemedicine and virtual meetings to treat and advise patients of diseases other than Covid-19. Many doctors have voiced their opinion on missing important symptoms during virtual visits.
Health centres in recent months have increased the screening process for patients in the last few months to make up for overdue screenings. Health experts are relying on electronic health records to contact patients who are overdue for their diagnosis.