COVID-19 Fallout Could Lead to More Cancer Deaths, Radiologists Warn.
According to a study presented next week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), significant reductions in CT imaging for cancer persisted even after the pandemic’s peak in 2020, delaying diagnosis and treatment and raising the risk of more advanced cancers and poorer outcomes for patients in the future.
COVID-19 had a severe impact on US health care, according to numerous studies, as the pandemic flooded hospitals and reduced imaging capacity during its peak in March to early May 2020.
However, few studies have looked into the pandemic’s long-term effects on cancer imaging.
Researchers from MGH and Harvard Medical School in Boston compared cancer-related CT exams during three phases of 2020: pre-COVID (January to mid-March), peak COVID (mid-March to May), and post-COVID peak (May to mid-November).
They looked at the number of CT scans performed and the types of imaging-based care provided.
CT volumes dropped dramatically during the COVID peak, as expected.
The use of CT for cancer screening dropped by 82%, while CT for initial workup, active cancer, and cancer surveillance all saw significant drops.
Cancer screening and initial workup volumes did not recover in the post-COVID peak period, falling 11.7 percent and 20%, respectively, from pre-COVID levels.
“The drop during the COVID peak was expected due to stay-at-home orders and the number of imaging departments that shut down as a precaution,” said study senior author Marc Succi, MD, an emergency radiologist at MGH and executive director of the MESH Incubator, a hospital-based innovation and entrepreneurship center.
“You’d think that once normal operations resumed, these patients would be imaged fairly, but that wasn’t the case.”
The continued decline in CTs for cancer screening and initial workup will almost certainly lead to an increase in the number of patients with advanced cancers in the future.
“We expect to see increased morbidity and mortality as a result of these patients’ inability to get their routine imaging,” Dr.
“You can also assume they didn’t show up for their routine elective follow-up appointments.”
CT imaging utilization shifted away from large academic centers and toward community hospitals and the Emergency Department (ED) as CT imaging usage declined.
In the post-COVID peak period, cancer-related CTs in the ED actually increased.
“The ED..” says the narrator.
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