Here are some of the effects COVID-19 has had on diagnosing and treating cancer.
During early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities were on lockdown and hospitals and doctor offices had to cancel appointments, screenings and procedures. Even as restrictions lifted and healthcare could resume once again, many people didn’t immediately reschedule missed appointments.
Now, long after the initial days of lockdown, doctors are finding more and more people being diagnosed with later stage cancers. Concern is that the effect of this pandemic will be felt for years, as health issues were ignored and allowed to increase in severity. This will necessitate more treatment and result in poorer outcomes and increased death rates.
Why is the pandemic affecting cancer?
Cancer screenings have the ability to detect cancers in their earliest stages, before any symptoms appear and when they are most treatable. During the pandemic, many people put off important screenings or ignored symptoms that might be a sign of cancer. Not only was routine healthcare briefly put on hold, but job loss (and therefore no health insurance), remote work and schooling, having to care for loved ones, and not feeling comfortable going back to medical facilities may have all contributed to delayed cancer diagnoses.
It appears that this secondary effect of the pandemic may be hitting communities disproportionately, just as COVID-19 has impacted communities differently. People of color from low income communities appear to be affected most. People in these communities have struggled with the effects of COVID-19 more than others and also face greater obstacles to cancer screening and treatment, such as job loss and less access to the health care they need. Some programs designed to promote cancer screenings in these communities may have been put on hold while COVID-19 was prioritized.
Since some cancers grow slowly, the effects of missed or delayed cancer screenings are not exactly known and may not be felt for years. But if you are among the people who have still not rescheduled routine screenings, such as mammograms, colonoscopies, Pap tests, PSA tests or low-dose CT scans, now is the time to do so. The sooner cancer is diagnosed and treatment is started, the better.
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Date Last Reviewed: November 2, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD