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As Patients Skip Screenings, Doctors Warn of 'Late-Stage Cancer Pandemic'


Tuesday, November 24, 2020   

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Doctors are calling it an alarming trend - new cancer diagnoses have dropped since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, likely because people are letting routine cancer screening and other medical appointments lapse.

Dr. Joshua Ofman is Chief Medical Officer at GRAIL, Inc, a healthcare company that focuses on cancer detection. He said the earlier a person's cancer is detected, the greater the odds they'll survive. He's concerned this year, many Americans might be missing the window for early diagnosis.

"The COVID pandemic is causing what's been referred to as a 'second pandemic,' which will be of late-stage cancer diagnoses, which have really poor outcomes," Ofman said.

The American Cancer Society says more than 17,000 Arkansans were diagnosed with cancer this year.

Ofman said current recommendations suggest routine screenings for five cancers, including breast, cervical, colorectal, prostate, and for smokers, lung cancer. He noted screening frequency depends on age, family history, and lifestyle factors.

One survey found more than one-third of American adults have skipped their scheduled cancer screenings during the pandemic. And in first few months of the crisis, weekly diagnoses fell by nearly half for the top six types of cancer.

Ofman believes the consequences of fewer cancer screenings will likely be felt over the next decade.

"And so the estimates are that could result in well over 10,000 deaths - just from breast and colorectal cancer - over the next 10 years, and that we're probably missing about 80,000 cancer diagnoses due to the pandemic," he said.

Before the pandemic, U.S. cancer death rates were on the decline, dropping by 25% in the past two decades. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cancers linked to weight gain and obesity are on the rise.

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