The After-Effects of the Pandemic: A Spike in Cancer Diagnoses

Nothing seemed to manage to dodge the global impact of COVID-19 over the last two years. Cancer included. 

As we emerge from the worst of the limitations COVID-19 placed on society, we’re slowly starting to return to some state of balance while still remaining cautious around our health.

But what happened during the time when restrictions were at their highest? Among many changes, there was a huge decline in those getting their routine cancer screening tests done. Many people stayed at home, too scared to use public transport to visit doctors and hospitals. To add to the negative impact, there was a supply chain issue, which resulted in a lack of staff and crucial supplies, placing huge strain on cancer clinics. 

Hospitals and clinics all over the world reduced non-emergency appointments, causing a direct (and negative) impact on cancer screenings. This was the start of the ‘delayed cancer screening domino effect’, of which we predict we’ll feel the effects of into the future.

A conclusion of concerns through studies

Numerous studies conducted have come to a similar conclusion: delays in cancer screenings, directly attributable to the pandemic, are suspected to lead to higher death rates in the near future. We turn to research from the University of California’s Moores Cancer Center, which highlights findings from early- and late-stage breast cancer diagnoses during COVID-19’s wave of destruction.

Comparing 2019 to 2020, the research findings are:

  • In the year 2019 – there was a 64% diagnosis of stage 1 breast cancer and just 2% presented with stage 4 breast cancer.
  • The year 2020 – stage 1 diagnosis dropped dramatically to 54% and stage 4 breast cancer rates jumped to 6%.
  • Looking further into 2021, specifically at the research between January to March, almost 42% of women received a positive diagnosis for stage 1, and 8% presented with stage 4 breast cancer.

In conclusion to the alarming statistics shown above, it’s clear that late-stage presentation of breast cancer has risen since the beginning of the global pandemic in 2020, and early-stage detection has fallen. These are not the kind of numbers we want to be seeing. It is a clear indication of the effect COVID-19 has had on cancer screenings. We have been living in fear of leaving our homes, but now we should be cognizant of what this fear has caused.

Related read: What happens when breast health is disrupted?

Early detection is key

Like the expression goes: better safe, than sorry. And to stay as safe as possible, we need to be proactive. This means going for routine checkups and screenings. If cancer is detected in its early stages there are far more treatment options, including less invasive surgeries. In addition to this, early-stage cancers have far better five-year survival rates. When cancer is still confined to the breast area, the survival rate is 99%, according to the American Cancer Society. If breast cancer has spread outside the breast area or lymph nodes, the survival rate drops to 86%. Due to the halt of checks and screenings, these rates are likely set to fall. Early detection and preventative tests are crucial to fighting cancer and conquering it.

There’s a way to mitigate the rising levels of life-threatening diagnosis due to delayed screenings and allaying routine checks. How? Go get checked. It really is that simple. Doctors and health workers nationwide are urging women who skipped going for a mammogram during high alert COVID-19 restrictions, to go as soon as possible.

It can’t be emphasized enough: Early detection saves lives.

Who should go for routine cancer checks?

Cancer screening tests were designed with the aim of finding cancer, or precancerous areas before symptoms start manifesting themselves. This is the time when treatments are most successful. More specifically, some organizations have developed guidelines for screening women, which mainly cover a basic screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers. These tests can be done routinely as early as during the late teenage years.

Not all screening tests are suited for everyone, and other factors play a role in what tests are done, and when. Your personal and family cancer history and genetic predisposition are some of these factors.

When looking at breast cancer screening, here are some age-related guidelines on screening:

  • If you are between 40 – 44 you should undergo your first mammogram.
  • After 45 an annual mammogram is recommended.
  • Women aged 55 and older should consider bi-annual screening tests.
  • Screening should then continue regularly into old age, despite whether you are in good health or not.

It’s important to remember that self-breast exams are no longer recommended, however, women should be familiar with their normal breast tissue and be able to recognize any changes in appearance, size, or the way the tissue feels to the touch. If any of these are noticeable, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.

The American Cancer Society recommends annual breast MRI and mammogram for breast cancer screening in women who:

  • Carry a known BRCA 1 or 2 mutation or have a first-degree relative with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation but have not been tested themselves, 
  • those with a lifetime risk of breast cancer that is higher due to a family history of breast cancer, or,
  • those who have Li-Fraumeni, Cowden, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndromes or a first-degree relative with one of them. 

(Source: oncolink.org)

It’s advised to discuss your personal and family cancer history with your healthcare provider and decide whether you should have additional tests at an earlier age.

Why is Celbrea leading the way in early detection?

Celbrea® was created to increase the early detection of breast cancer. We can’t stress enough that the earlier you detect breast disease, the better your chances of recovery are.

The device does not replace a mammogram but provides an additional way to screen for breast disease. It aims to add to doctors’ existing standard evaluation protocols with a quick, painless examination.

Celbrea® aims to deliver a safe, effective, non-invasive, and easy-to-use technology to support routine physical breast examination. The device strives to broaden access to breast care worldwide by empowering women to monitor their breast health.

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