A newly published original report in JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics examines Medicare data to discern how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the timeliness and continuity of cancer screening and treatment for seniors.
The study analyzed data from a medical claims clearinghouse that represents approximately five percent of the Medicare fee-for-service population to see if this population made changes in its access of cancer care over the past few months versus 2019.
“Our analysis sought to describe these trends more broadly across settings of care and explore the degree to which in later months’ utilization of cancer services continues to lag behind what was seen in cancer management in 2019,” the authors explained.
The authors found that during the first peak of the pandemic in April, the numbers of seniors being screened for the four most common cancers in the U.S.[i] was decreased by 85%, 75%, 74%, and 56%, respectively, for four common cancers: breast, colon, prostate, and lung.
The authors’ analysis shows that with fewer patients getting recommended screenings, cancers will go undetected until they are caught at a later stage, which then necessitates more complicated care and less favorable outcomes.
“The impact of diminished screening due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent delays in diagnosis of cancer will be catastrophic,” said lead author and JCO CCI Editor-in-Chief Debra Patt, MD, PhD, MBA, FASCO, executive vice president, public policy and strategic initiatives, and medical oncologist and breast cancer specialist at Texas Oncology. “Many thousands of Medicare beneficiaries will present with more advanced cancer with its nefarious results: higher morbidity, mortality, and cost of care. We cannot underscore enough the importance of resuming preventative care now.”
This reduction in preventative services was recorded in ASCO’s annual National Cancer Opinion Survey conducted earlier this year. This year’s survey found that among the 37% Americans who were scheduled for a cancer screening test such as a mammogram, colonoscopy, skin check, and Pap/HPV test during the pandemic, nearly two-thirds (64%), report that it was delayed or cancelled. Among those whose appointments were delayed or cancelled, two-thirds (66%) said it was their choice, and a similar percentage of Americans (63%) reported being concerned about being behind on their cancer screenings.