10,000 excess cancer deaths predicted due to COVID-19 delays


10,000 excess cancer deaths predicted due to COVID-19 delays

When it comes to successfully treating cancer, time is precious.
Patients generally experience better outcomes the earlier cancer is diagnosed, which is why it’s critical for people to continue with routine cancer screenings and seek medical care promptly if they notice concerning symptoms, says Dr. Sara Adams, a leading oncologist at Tidelands Health Cancer Care Network, an affiliate of MUSC Health and our region’s most comprehensive provider of cancer care.
“Given the uncertainly around COVID-19, it can be tempting to postpone or even skip medical appointments,” she says. “But we absolutely recommend people continue receiving the medical care they need during the pandemic, including cancer evaluation and screenings.”

Lives at stake

A model created by the National Cancer Institute reinforces the importance of timely cancer screening and treatment. It predicts the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to nearly 10,000 excess cancer deaths over the next decade as a result of missed screenings, delayed diagnoses and reduced oncological care.
And the model only examined excess deaths caused by breast and colorectal cancer.
“We think that [mortality] estimate we provided is very conservative and likely to grow if we continue to postpone screening treatment and other cancer care,” Ned Sharpless, director of NCI, told “STAT,” a sister publication of The Boston Globe. “We’re very worried about the consequences of…delaying therapy on our patients.”

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As someone who regularly treats people with cancer, who are at higher risk for complications for COVID-19, Dr. Adams says she understands why people might be concerned about the safety of receiving medical care during the pandemic.
After all, hospitals and medical offices are places where people seek care when they’re injured or ill.
But that’s precisely why they are among the safest places you can go.
Taking care of people when they’re ill – while keeping others around them healthy – is what health professionals do, Dr. Adams says. At Tidelands Health, team members undergo extensive training and follow industry-leading health and safety protocols that detail everything from the types of high-powered disinfectants used to the way lobbies are designed.

'Safe in Our Care'

In addition, Tidelands Health has implemented a series of extra precautions at all of the health system’s 60-plus care locations as part of the organization’s ”Safe in our Care” initiative.
The initiative includes Safe Care Navigators, who screen patients for symptoms of COVID-19, provide hand sanitizer for hand hygiene and answer safety-related questions, enhanced check-in and check-out procedures, designated social distancing zones and enhancements to the organization’s already-stringent cleaning protocols in lobbies and exam rooms. In addition, all patients, visitors and team members are required to wear a face covering or mask in all Tidelands Health care locations.
“The safety of our patients is something we take extremely seriously,” Dr. Adams says. “It’s very important people know about the measures we’ve put in place in response to COVID-19.”

Don't wait

If you have put off or canceled a mammogram, colonoscopy, CT screen for lung cancer or other form of screening, make sure to reschedule it promptly, Dr. Adams says. Doing so could save your life.
“We’ve made incredible progress over the past several decades in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment,” she says. “We don’t want to go backward. Delaying medical care for non-COVID-related conditions like cancer can turn one health crisis into another. We can avoid that outcome by making sure that we’re all getting the medical care we need on a timely basis.”

Meet the Expert

Dr. Sara Adams

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