From delayed check-ups to postponed elective procedures, missed or deferred care during the pandemic will continue to strain the healthcare delivery system for the foreseeable future. The graphic above shows the impact on cancer care: both cancer screenings and new diagnoses are still down from pre-COVID levels.
Screenings for breast, colon, and cervical cancers were significantly lower in 2020, and patients missed about 10M total screenings in the pandemic’s first year alone. While cancer screenings rebounded somewhat in 2021, they were still below pre-pandemic levels. Unsurprisingly, the downstream impact has been a similar decline in new cancer diagnoses.
The negative effects of care delays have become increasingly obvious: there has been an increase in the number of patients presenting with later-stage cancers. There was a six percent increase in Stage 4 breast cancer diagnoses, and a 16 percent increase in Stage 2 and 3 cancer diagnoses in 2021, compared to 2019.
With no reason to believe that either cancer incidence or acuity has actually changed, oncology providers must increase their screening capacity and double down on reaching out to patients who are overdue for screenings. But as providers continue to work through the backlog of missed exams, they must prepare to treat more complex, higher-acuity cancer patients than ever before.