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Colorectal Cancer Diagnoses Plummeted During the Pandemic

Fewer cases of colorectal cancer identified through screening; more patients had serious complications at the time of diagnosis

MONDAY, Oct. 4, 2021 (HealthDay News) — The number of colorectal cancer (CRC) cases diagnosed decreased by 40 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic period, according to a study presented at UEG Week Virtual 2021, hosted by United European Gastroenterology and held from Oct. 3 to 5.

María José Domper Arnal, M.D., from University Clinic Hospital in Zaragoza, Spain, and colleagues examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the diagnosis and characteristics of CRC patients. The number of CRC cases and their clinical characteristics diagnosed in Aragón, Spain, were examined prepandemic (March 1, 2019, to March 14, 2020) and during the pandemic (March 15, 2020, to Feb. 28, 2021).

The researchers found that 1,385 cancers were diagnosed overall: 62.7 and 37.3 percent in the prepandemic and pandemic periods, respectively, representing 40.4 percent fewer tumors compared with the expected incidence of CRC. The mean age at diagnosis was higher in the pandemic period (72.4 versus 71.1 years); no significant differences were observed according to sex. In the pandemic period, fewer CRCs were identified by screening (4.3 versus 21.0 percent), and more CRCs were diagnosed due to symptoms (81.2 versus 69.0 percent). Compared with the prepandemic period, during the pandemic, CRC patients with a serious complication at diagnosis were significantly more frequent (14.7 versus 10.6 percent). There was no difference seen in advanced stage of CRC (stages III and IV) between the periods.

“These are very worrying findings indeed — cases of colorectal cancer undoubtedly went undiagnosed during the pandemic,” Domper Arnal said in a statement. “Not only were there fewer diagnoses, but those diagnosed tended to be at a later stage and suffering from more serious symptoms.”

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