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The Pandemic Has Been Awful for Cancer Screenings

A Maryland study says there have been fewer cancer diagnoses—because people aren't getting screened.

Less people are being diagnosed with cancer as a result of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions in healthcare facilities, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System and the University of Maryland School of Medicine examined data from more than nine million U.S. veterans at over 1,200 Veteran Affairs medical facilities. The group found that clinical procedures that help detect cancer such as colonoscopies, prostate biopsies, CT scans, and cystoscopies had declined by significant amounts near the start of the pandemic. For example, the average of colonoscopies and prostate biopsies decreased by 45 percent and 29 percent, compared to 2019.

New cancer diagnoses, such as prostate and bladder cancer, also decreased overall. The group found that there was more than 11,000 fewer prostate cancer diagnoses and more than 2,300 fewer lung cancer diagnoses.

But fewer diagnoses doesn’t mean that less people have cancer. Since hospitals were crowded with Covid patients and staff burnout, several Americans had to delay urgent healthcare and regular checkups. A recent survey from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that hospitals struggled to balance routine hospital care and treating Covid patients. The hospitals also reported that patients delayed routine care as a result of the pandemic. “The disruption in non-emergency heath care during the peak of the pandemic was intentional and necessary,” said the team’s lead researcher, Dr. Brajesh K. Lal, in a press statement.

The study also included a chart that healthcare facilities can use to determine the time and resources needed to ramp up diagnostic procedures. “As we enter the recovery phase, we hope that our work will help physicians, hospitals, and health care organizations anticipate the extent to which they have fallen behind in their efforts to diagnose new cancers.”

Damare Baker
Research Editor

Before becoming Research Editor, Damare Baker was an Editorial Fellow and Assistant Editor for Washingtonian. She has previously written for Voice of America and The Hill. She is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she studied international relations, Korean, and journalism.