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COVID-19 restrictions push up death toll from breast cancer over the next decade

par John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | July 26, 2021
Women's Health
Delaying mammography exams when the pandemic first arose may have increased the total number of breast cancer-related deaths over the next 10 years
Measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 in hospitals and healthcare facilities early on may have inadvertently increased breast cancer deaths over the next decade.

Namely, the temporary prohibition of mammography, along with most elective procedures, is responsible, with the delays reducing mammograms up to 80%, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"There were many reports on the short-term impact of COVID-19 on breast cancer control activities. We found that the rapid adaptations of healthcare facilities to devise strategies to resume breast cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment services within a six-month period greatly mitigated the potential impact on breast cancer mortality,” said Oguzhan Alagoz, the lead author of the study, in a statement.

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Alagoz and his colleagues used three independently-developed breast cancer simulation models to predict breast cancer mortality as a result of COVID-19-related disruptions on healthcare delivery in the first six months of the pandemic. They found the number of breast cancer-related deaths could reach 2,487 by 2030 as a result of the impact of the interruptions on screening, diagnosis and chemotherapy.

An additional 950 deaths by 2030 were attributed to reduced screening, while 1,314 were associated with delayed diagnosis of symptomatic cases. The impact of treatment delays and reductions in planned or expected chemotherapy treatments was also assessed, with 151 attributed to reduced chemotherapy uses in women with early stage breast cancer. Together, the figures add up to a 0.52% rise in breast cancer deaths between 2020 and 2030.

“Facilities should prioritize screening women who missed their routine mammography exam during the pandemic to reduce the impact of the pandemic on mortality,” said Alagoz.

The researchers used breast cancer simulation models from the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network.

The findings were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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