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Rise in Avoidable Cancer Deaths Expected Due to COVID-19

Analysis estimates additional deaths in England within five years due to delayed cancer diagnoses

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TUESDAY, July 21, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- An increase in the number of avoidable cancer deaths is expected in England as a result of diagnostic delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published online July 20 in The Lancet Oncology.

Camille Maringe, Ph.D., from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and colleagues estimated the impact of diagnostic delays during a 12-month period starting from commencement of physical distancing measures on March 16, 2020. To model the subsequent impact of diagnostic delays on survival, patients on screening and routine referral pathways were reallocated to urgent and emergency pathways; three reallocation scenarios were considered.

The researchers found that compared with prepandemic figures, there was an estimated increase of 7.9 to 9.6 percent in the number of deaths due to breast cancer up to five years after diagnosis across the three scenarios, corresponding to 281 to 344 additional deaths. The corresponding estimates were 1,445 to 1,563 additional deaths (15.3 to 16.6 percent increase) for colorectal cancer; 1,235 to 1,372 additional deaths (4.8 to 5.3 percent increase) for lung cancer; and 330 to 342 additional deaths (5.8 to 6.0 percent increase) for esophageal cancer. These data corresponded with 3,291 to 3,621 additional deaths within five years, with an estimated 59,204 to 63,229 total additional years of life lost.

"As we slowly begin to resume normal life, we need accurate and measured public health messaging via a range of media channels tailored towards patients, general practitioners, and secondary care, that puts into perspective the risk of death from COVID-19 compared with that of delaying cancer diagnosis," Maringe said in a statement. "Similarly, the health care community needs evidence-based information to adequately manage the risks of patients to the risks and benefits of contracting COVID-19 through different diagnostic procedures."

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