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More Advanced Cancer at Presentation Possible Effect of Pandemic

FRIDAY, April 2, 2021 -- Physicians report that patients are presenting with more advanced-stage cancers -- a possible consequence of deferred care earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the results of a survey conducted by the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO).

ASTRO surveyed 117 medical directors of U.S. radiation oncology practices between Jan. 15 and Feb. 7, 2021, as well as in April, May, and June of 2020.

According to the results of the survey, two-thirds of the physicians said new patients are presenting with more advanced disease compared with before the pandemic. Three-fourths of respondents noticed lapsed cancer screenings among their patient populations. Of existing patients, two-thirds experienced treatment interruptions due to the pandemic, most often caused by COVID-19 quarantine or illness of the patient or their caregiver. In 2021, only 15 percent of clinics report postponing treatment compared with 92 percent in April 2020.

"One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we already see the consequences of pandemic-driven drops in cancer screening and diagnostics," Thomas J. Eichler, M.D., chair of the ASTRO Board of Directors, said in a statement. "Because the pandemic and cancer cause disproportionately more harm for Black and other medically underserved populations, these rates may be even higher for some vulnerable communities."

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