What is it about?

In the US, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected various aspects of healthcare, such as cancer prevention care. At its height, millions of people missed their cancer screening tests. This led to a drop in cancer diagnoses for several months. In a new interview, Dr. Norman Sharpless, the former director of the National Cancer Institute, sheds light on how COVID-19 has impacted cancer care. Dr. Sharpless spoke about the importance of cancer screenings, and how avoiding them could increase the chances of a late diagnosis. He shared his views about home screening tests, new lung cancer prevention initiatives, and raising awareness about cancer prevention.

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Why is it important?

During the pandemic, screening tests for breast, lung, cervical, and colon cancer went down by nearly 95% across the country. Also, cancer diagnosis rates dropped by 50%. Dr. Sharpless explained how these low numbers do not imply a decrease in the total number of cancer cases. They could simply indicate a greater number of cancers waiting to be diagnosed at later stages. Dr. Sharpless also talked about how symptomatic people avoided seeking care due to the pandemic. He mentioned that home screening tests were unaffected by the pandemic, compared to on site tests like colonoscopy. Thus, home tests could be used to make cancer screening more accessible. He raised questions about disparities among people who returned for screenings after the pandemic. Were some populations hit harder by both COVID-19 and decreased access to cancer care? He acknowledged that the pandemic gave us the chance to address these important research questions. He concluded by encouraging better education about cancer risk factors among caregivers and public health officials. KEY TAKEAWAY: The pandemic increased the risks of undetected cancers and delayed diagnosis. However, it also presented the world with many valuable research questions. The answers to these questions could improve the standard of cancer care.

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Q&A: Ned Sharpless on COVID-19 and Cancer Prevention, Cancer Prevention Research, June 2021, American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), DOI: 10.1158/1940-6207.capr-21-0146.
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