COLUMBUS, Ohio – New data published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology further quantify the vast lingering impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic on timely cancer screening, highlighting the urgent need for health care providers to address significant delays to cancer screenings in populations most likely to delay testing.
“These delays to cancer screening are significant and have persisted into 2023. This deserves immediate, intentional action from the medical community and community-health organizations to help get individuals back on track for timely screening,” said senior study author Electra Paskett, associate director for population science and community outreach at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). “Data suggest that there will be significant increases in later-stage cancer diagnoses if we do not stem this delay in screening.”
For this study, researchers at Ohio State and Indiana University conducted a survey regarding cancer-screening behaviors between June and November 2020. All study participants were within the age range for cancer screenings and had previously participated in research studies with permission to be recontacted.
Survey respondents were asked if they planned to have and then postponed a scheduled cancer screening test, which included: a screening mammogram, Pap test, stool blood test, colonoscopy or human papillomavirus (HPV) test. Statistical-assessment tools were used to determine the factors associated with cancer-screening delays for each planned test.
Of the 7,115 people who responded to the survey, 60% had a scheduled screening test planned for the June-November 2020 time frame. Among those who planned for a cancer screening test, 11%-36% delayed the planned test due to COVID-19, with variation by test.
Unlike other studies that have examined general delays in cancer screening, this study compared the demographic differences between individuals who did and did not plan to obtain any cancer screenings beyond March and December 2020.
Delays in cancer screenings, especially for Pap smears and HPV tests, among younger individuals, Hispanic women, and the women in other race/ethnicity groups were of particular concern to researchers. Of specific note: 24% of qualified study participants delayed screening mammograms, 27% delayed Pap tests and 36% delayed screening colonoscopies.