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Early-Stage Cancer Diagnoses Decreased During First Year of COVID-19

Pattern most prominent for Hispanics, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, uninsured, those in most socioeconomically deprived areas

By Elana Gotkine HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 3, 2023 (HealthDay News) — The number of cancer diagnoses decreased following COVID-19 emergence in March 2020, with the largest decrease seen for stage I disease, according to a study published in the August issue of The Lancet Oncology.

Xuesong Han, Ph.D., from the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, and colleagues examined nationwide changes in adult cancer diagnoses and stage distribution during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic by cancer type and sociodemographic factors in a cross-sectional study. Adults aged 18 years and older newly diagnosed in 2018 to 2020 were identified from the National Cancer Database, with a total of 2,404,050 adults newly diagnosed with cancer (830,528 in 2018; 849,290 in 2019; and 724,232 in 2020).

The researchers found that for all stages, the number of diagnoses decreased substantially following COVID-19 emergence in March 2020. By the end of 2020, monthly counts returned to near prepandemic levels. The largest decrease was seen for stage I, resulting in higher odds of late-stage diagnoses in 2020 compared with 2019 (adjusted odds ratios, 0.946 for stage I and 1.074 for stage IV). In most cancer types and sociodemographic groups, the pattern was observed, and it was most prominent among underserved individuals, including Hispanics, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, the uninsured, and those living in the most socioeconomically deprived areas.

“These findings likely reflect the time when individuals sought care or screening during the pandemic rather than a stage shift in cancer progression,” Han said in a statement. “More ongoing cancer surveillance with longer-term data is warranted to better understand the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Two authors disclosed ties to AstraZeneca; one author serves on the Flatiron Health Equity Advisory Board.

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