WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The number of newly diagnosed cancer cases has sharply declined since the COVID-19 pandemic began, causing some oncologists to worry about the number of people going undetected.
According to recently published research by medical experts with Quest Diagnostics, there has been a 46 percent decline in newly diagnoses cases of six common cancers: breast, colorectal, lung, pancreatic, and gastric.
"The findings are significant for revealing patterns of delayed cancer diagnosis due to COVID-19, which will likely lead to presentation of cancer at more advanced stages and poorer clinical outcomes," according to a statement from Quest.
Dr. Anthony Addesa, Director of Radiation Oncology Services at the Medical Group of South Florida, said he is seeing more patients coming in with advanced stages of cancer.
"The outlook is certainly decreased, in terms of the cure rates," Dr. Addesa said. "The earlier it's detected, the better we can help cure it."
Starting in the spring, patients, doctors, and health systems started to cancel or delay appointments like mammograms and colonoscopies in order to conserve medical resources.
Dr. Addesa said some local hospitals were putting off performing biopsies, considering them "elective."
Some patients were -- and continue to be -- hesitant to go to the doctor, out of fear of contracting the virus.
Dr. Addesa hopes more people prioritize getting their cancer screenings, even as the pandemic continues.
"I think colonoscopies, routine mammograms should proceed as they would, and this pandemic should not deter patients from coming in from those important screenings," he said.
Tenecia Burton-Sproull, a breast cancer survivor, agrees.
"We cannot put cancer on the back burner," she said. "It's just as important as COVID."
In 2011, Burton-Sproull noticed a lump in her breast but waited six months to see a doctor about it.
It turned out to be Stage 2 breast cancer.
Several surgeries later, she is recovered and helping other cancer patients through her non-profit, the Pink Queen Foundation in West Palm Beach.
Through her foundation, she is hearing about people putting off cancer treatments and screenings.
"Cancer is alive and well, and people are not being diagnosed," she said. "They are so consumed with the pandemic, and they are not getting the treatment that they need."
One study estimates a potential increase of 33,890 excessive cancer deaths in the United States due to delays in diagnoses and treatments during the pandemic.