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Concern grows over reduction in cancer screenings amid pandemic

Experts are expressing concern that a reduction in cancer screenings over the past year will soon result in an increase in advanced cases (Source: “Advanced Cancers Are Emerging, Doctors Warn, Citing Pandemic Drop in Screenings,” New York Times, March 17).

Months of lockdowns and waves of surging COVID-19 cases throughout last year shuttered or reduced hours at clinics and cancer-testing labs, resulting in steep declines in the number of screenings, including for breast and colorectal cancers, experts have said.

Numerous studies showed that the number of patients screened or given a diagnosis of cancer fell during the early months of the pandemic. By mid-June, the rate of screenings for breast, colon and cervical cancers were still 29% to 36% lower than their prepandemic levels, according to an analysis of data by the Epic Health Research Network. Hundreds of thousands fewer screenings were performed last year than in 2019, according to the network data.

While it is too early to assess the full impact of the delays in screenings, many cancer specialists say they are concerned that patients are coming in with more severe disease.

“There’s no question in practice that we are seeing patients with more advanced breast cancer and colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Lucio N. Gordan, the president of the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, one of the nation’s largest independent oncology groups.