Oncology, the branch of medicine that deals with the study and treatment of tumors, is going to be severely affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a leading cancer doctor predicts. Due to the pandemic overwhelming the medical system, the number of people dying from breast cancer or colorectal cancer in the U.S. is expected to rise by 10,000 over the next decade. Norman “Ned” Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute, published his editorial in the journal Science.
Sharpless also notes that apart from cancer-related procedures, early detection of tumors is coming down due to the increased priority the pandemic is taking up, according to NBC News. The number of mammographies and colonoscopies (different detection methods) has drastically reduced, he notes. These scans usually detect tumors in their early stages, often allowing easy treatment before full-blown cancer. Hospitals are also delaying treatments like chemotherapy and other cancer surgeries in order to allow themselves to handle the pandemic.
“There can be no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing delayed diagnosis and suboptimal care for people with cancer. Cancers being missed now will still come to light eventually, but at a later stage, and with worse prognoses,” Sharpless writes. According to the CDC, more than 41,000 breast cancer deaths and 52,000 colorectal cancer deaths occur every year in the U.S.
Sharpless mentions that this delayed care mostly will be felt by patients with breast or colorectal cancer. These specific types of cancer make up one-sixth of the deaths cancer deaths in the U.S. alone. This new prediction comes after a recent study suggested that cancer patients are more at risk to COVID-19.
After calculating how the COVID-19 pandemic delays cancer detection and treatment in hospitals, Sharpless predicts that over 10,000 additional cancer deaths will occur in the U.S., a conservative estimate. Not only detection and treatment but even further research and trials on cancer-related tests, therapy, and drugs have been halted due to the pandemic. Many labs and research projects have lost months of progress due to the pandemic.
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