Sharp fall in cancer diagnoses during coronavirus crisis - data

Patients who are slow to present during crisis and social distancing in labs is affecting testing

People are staying away from doctors and hospitals during the Covid crisis even when they have potentially serious medical conditions, according to new data.

People are staying away from doctors and hospitals during the Covid crisis even when they have potentially serious medical conditions, according to new data.

 

New figures underline concerns that people are staying away from doctors and hospitals during the Covid crisis even when they have potentially serious medical conditions.

Irish pharma data analytics business Diaceutics said it has seen a sharp drop in the number of patients presenting for cancer testing and diagnosis. The figures relate to the United States but the company said the trends are likely to be repeated worldwide given the global nature of the pandemic.

The Irish Cancer Society has expressed concern that people are putting their lives at risk because of a reluctance to seek medical help if they notice cancer symptoms.

Diaceutics runs an oncology tracker in the US and its data show the impact that the spread of Covid-19 and subsequent lockdown measures are having on cancer patient care.

The figures show a 31 per cent fall in the number of newly-diagnosed lung cancer patients in March 2020 compared to February. There were also significant drops in testing for indicators of the presence of cancer in patients.

The number of patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer and acute myeloid leukaemia was down 14 per cent while there were 8.5 per cent fewer diagnoses of breast and ovarian cancers.

The company counts patients as newly-diagnosed when they have had results from a biopsy and have not previously featured in the database.

Diaceutics chief operating officer Jordan Clark said the figures “highlight the devastating impact that Covid-19 is having on cancer patients, from both a social distancing and healthcare system capacity viewpoint”.

“Our research shows that laboratories are receiving fewer samples and hospitals are performing fewer biopsies.”

He suggested the rates for lung cancer diagnosis may be particularly badly affected because Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, “so the symptoms that patients would normally consult their doctor about are potentially being mistaken for the novel coronavirus”.

“The reality of the situation is that fewer people are going for regular screening, or attending medical appointments to get symptoms checked out,” Mr Clark said.

The need to introduce social distancing and repurposing of labs’ resources to tackle Covid-19 testing had also affected their ability to carry out cancer testing, he said.

“This means that fewer people are getting diagnosed and therefore tested,” he said. “Our research shows that Covid-19 is having a detrimental impact on the already fractured testing ecosystem, which means that even more cancer patients are missing out on getting the treatment that is right for them at the right time.”

Though the Diaceutics data relate to the US, Mr Clark said there was no doubt that the same trends would be emerging elsewhere and that the fall off in testing and diagnosis of patients with serious conditions would continue to fall given the global nature of the Covid pandemic.