Amid COVID-19, Fewer Cancer Patients Are Seeking Care

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a new study shows national decreases in the number of patients being seen for cancer-related care. The study was published in JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics. “While it is not surprising that the pandemic has had a significant impact on patients seeking care, it was important to test and quantify these trends using a large, institutionally agnostic dataset, as the results have important implications for future cancer patients and the potential burden on hospitals moving forward,” said Christopher McNair, PhD, Director of Cancer Informatics at SKCC and senior author of the study in a press release. In this study, researchers used the TriNetX platform to create a COVID-19 and Cancer Research Network (CCRN), comprised of data from 20 healthcare organizations representing over 28 million patients throughout the United States and includes data from electronic medical records such as diagnoses, procedures, laboratory testing, and demographics. They used the CCRN to compare the number of patients with cancer-related encounters in January through April of 2019 with those in January through April of 2020.   The researchers observed a notable decline in patients with encounters associated with any neoplasm, including malignant, benign, and in situ diseases (-56.9%); new incidence neoplasms (-74%); malignant disease (-50%); and new incidence malignant disease (-65.2%). The researchers also looked at data from University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust in the United Kingdom, which showed similar trends. However, given that these findings are from a single US hospital the the researchers cautioned that more data are needed to compare trends outside the United States. “These findings are truly striking, as modeling from the National Cancer Institute has predicted thousands of expected increases in cancer death as a result of deferred breast and colorectal screening alone,” said Karen E. Knudsen, MBA, PhD, Executive Vice President of Oncology Services, Jefferson Health, and Enterprise Director of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. “This report is a nationwide call to arms, underscoring the urgent need to resume cancer screening and early detection.”