Pandemic related cancer delays will have a clinically significant impact: experts

By Nicola Garrett

4 Aug 2020

Experts have called for an urgent prioritisation of cancer patients according to clinical need after their study found that diagnosis and treatment delays caused by COVID-19 will result in many additional cancer deaths.

A modelling study published in The Lancet Oncology by Professor Clare Turnbull, from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and colleagues predicted 181 to 542 additional cancer deaths in the UK due to delay in patient presentation and referral during the three-month lockdown.

A further 401 to 1,231 deaths due to delayed diagnostic investigations were also predicted from delays as the hospital system deals with the backlog of patients.

“Our modelling suggests a clinically significant impact in lives and life-years lost if delays to the 2-week-wait pathway are extensive and prolonged,” the study authors wrote.

“Unlike acute pathologies, such as stroke and myocardial infarction, the true excess mortality due to COVID-19-related disruption to cancer pathways will not be fully evident for 10 years or longer,” they added.

“Prioritisation of patient groups for whom delay would result in most life-years lost warrants consideration as an option for mitigating the aggregate burden of mortality in patients with cancer,” they concluded.

Another modelling study published in the same journal estimated that that delays in cancer diagnosis and changes in health-seeking behaviour due to COVID-19 could result in breast cancer deaths increasing by an estimated 8–10%, colorectal cancer deaths by 15–17%, a 5%  rise in lung cancer deaths, and a 6% rise in deaths from oesophageal cancer over the next 5 years.

“Urgent policy interventions are necessary, particularly the need to manage the backlog within routine diagnostic services to mitigate the expected impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on patients with cancer,” the study authors advised.

Co-author of the paper Professor Bernard Rachet from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK said: “To absorb the cancer patient backlog, the healthcare community also needs to establish clear criteria to prioritise patients on clinical grounds, in order to maintain equitability in care delivery”.

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