Since the beginning of 2020, governments and healthcare establishments across the world have been forced to 'deal' with the onslaught of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Concerns that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may affect the quality and quantity of care provided to patients ailing with other conditions have been rising. Now, a new study has found that delays caused by colorectal cancer (CRC) screening due to the pandemic have resulted in a notable increase in the number of deaths caused by the cancer.

Using a forecast model developed for the study, the researchers from the University of Bologna that delay in CRC screening have caused an 11.9 percent increased in CRC death rates. "Across the globe, healthcare systems are facing serious difficulties while dealing with COVID-19 and it is imperative that support is given to the public and patients throughout the crisis, including for high-impact diseases such as colorectal cancer," said Pro. Luigi Ricciardiello, lead author of the study in a statement.

A Global Killer

Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal Cancer Wikimedia commons

CRC, which is commonly known as bowel cancer, usually affects men and women above the age of 50. According to the WHO, over 1.8 million new cases—10.2 percent of the total number of cancer cases—were reported in 2018 globally. Also, it formed 9.2 percent of total cancer deaths—880,792 deaths. An unhealthy lifestyle such as heavy smoking and alcohol consumption and diets rich in processed food has been associated with the development of CRC.

It is the second most lethal death-causing form of cancer in Europe and is the most common form of cancer affecting the digestive system. Timely screening for the early detection of the disease, and widespread programs across Europe aided in the decline of mortality. However, the unexpected and damaging emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the suspension of screening programs.

Significant Rise In Mortality Rates

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Representational Picture Pxfuel

The scientist developed a model to estimate what effect of delays in CRC screening (on account of COVID-19) had on the mortality attributed to CRC. They discovered that moderate delays (between 7-12 months) and large delays (over 12 months) in screening led to a three percent and seven percent respective rise in advanced stage CRC.

Based on survival rates at 5 years for stage III-IV CRC, the findings made painted a very somber picture. A notable 11.9 percent rise in deaths was found when comparing a delay of 0-3 months of delay to a delay above 12 months.

"Early-stage diagnosis of colorectal cancer is crucial - it's far easier to treat and enhances optimal patient outcomes. It is therefore essential that vital diagnosis tools, like screening programs, continue and help to prevent mortality rates from rising even further," said Prof. Ricciardiello. He added that healthcare authorities must regroup and prioritize screening activities during COVID-19 in order to prevent the compromise of other high-impact diseases.