While COVID quarantines dramatically reduce the spread of the disease, they also lead to a variety of unintended health consequences. Many of these relate to delays in preventative care, with early signs and symptoms missed due to a lack of testing or because these issues aren’t as easy to spot during telehealth checkups. Below, we explore the possible link between quarantine and late cancer diagnosis:
COVID and Cancer Diagnosis: What the Research Says
While research on the connection between lockdown and cancer diagnosis remains limited, data published in JAMA Network Open notes an alarming drop in the number of weekly diagnoses for several common types of cancer.
Similarly, research presented at the American Association of Cancer Research Virtual Meeting suggests that breast cancer screening has seen significant delays in the United States.
Harvard Medical School’s Erica Warner, MPH explains, “Delays in screening can lead to delays in diagnoses.” Warner adds that, according to the National Cancer Institute’s director, “an excess of 10,000 deaths from breast cancer and colorectal cancer over the next ten years” could occur due to the pandemic.
How Can We Improve Cancer Diagnosis During COVID?
While strategies such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and contact tracing remain crucial, preventative care and screening are as critical as ever in the fight against cancer. Warner cautions “We need to emphasize how important screening is and let [patients] know about the measures being taken to ensure their safety.”
Preventative care has largely resumed since the initial quarantine, although many people remain reluctant to schedule appointments. Fears of COVID’s spread can be addressed by implementing strict hygiene and protective equipment protocol.
Many medical professionals also advocate for home screenings to reduce contact within health care facilities. For some types of cancer, detection may even be possible with help from at-home solutions such as self-collected pap smears and the stool-based test Cologuard.
As we continue to battle COVID, it’s important that we also pay attention to other aspects of our physical and mental health. Cancer screening and other forms of preventative care warrant consideration during these difficult times.