During the COVID-19 crisis, cancer diagnoses of six of the most common types of cancer have decreased by 46 percent. Those are breast, colo-rectal, lung, pancreatic, gastric, and esophageal cancers.
Why has the number of diagnoses gone down? Dr. Nabil Wasif, chair of Surgical Oncology with the Mayo Clinic, speculates it has something to do with people putting off routine screenings because of the pandemic.
“Patients who are having mild symptoms may not be seeking medical attention. Whereas under normal circumstances, they may have gone to see their doctor right away and have uncovered a problem early,” said Dr. Wasif.
People without any symptoms at all are also delaying their annual or routine screenings.
Routine screenings are recommended for breast, cervical and colon cancers—and for smokers, CT scans for lung cancer.
Though people are avoiding clinics out of concern for COVID, Dr. Wasif says safety measures practiced by the clinic and patients, such as masking up, disinfecting and social distancing, have reduced the potential for infection.
“So the main risk is that instead of a cancer being picked up early on a screening test, before the patient’s having any symptoms, it gets diagnosed at a much more advanced stage. We know that for most cancers, your best chance for cure is when we pick it up early,” said Dr. Wasif.