As One Health Crisis Begins to Lift, Another Replaces It

ProPublica reports undiagnosed cancers are up because of pandemic-related delays in screening
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2021 11:30 AM CDT
Pandemic Brings a 2nd Crisis: Undiagnosed Cancers
Delayed visits to the doctor because of COVID appear to be leading to a spike in cancers.   (AP Photo/Jason Redmond, File)

The deaths and illnesses won't be attributed to COVID-19. Not directly, at least. But as Duaa Eldeib writes for ProPublica, the pandemic has led to a secondary health crisis—a spike in the diagnosis in advanced cancer cases. In regard to COVID, "it's as if a violent flood has begun to recede, exposing the wreckage left in its wake," writes Eldeib. "Amid the damage is an untold number of cancers that went undiagnosed or untreated as patients postponed annual screenings, and as cancer clinics and hospitals suspended biopsies and chemotherapy and radiation treatments." The stats are jolting: Preventive cancer screenings across the US plunged by 94% in the first four months of last year. Women, for example, routinely skipped their mammograms, figuring it was safer to skip than venture to a doctor's office amid a pandemic.

Now that doctor visits are ticking up again, physicians are seeing patients who might have benefited from early treatment but whose cases are now too advanced. The story focuses in particular on 48-year-old Teresa Ruvalcaba of Chicago, who lived with the pain and inflammation in her breast for six months until finally visiting a hospital. Dr. Paramjeet "Pam" Khosla recalls lifting Ruvalcaba's hospital gown and being so shocked that she hoped her patient hadn't noticed. Biopsies later confirmed advanced inflammatory breast cancer. "If she would have come six months earlier, it could have been just surgery, chemo, and done," Khosla says. "Now she's incurable." Ruvalcaba's case won't be an outlier, however. The National Cancer Institute predicts almost 10,000 excess deaths from breast and colorectal cancer over the next 10 years because of pandemic-related delays in screening. Read the full story. (Read more COVID-19 stories.)

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