Delays in colorectal cancer (CRC) screening caused by COVID-19 has resulted in significantly increased death rates for the cancer, according to research presented at UEG Week Virtual 2020. Researchers at the University of Bologna produced a model to forecast the impact of time delays in CRC screening on CRC mortality caused by COVID-19. The results found that moderate (7-12 months) and large (>12 months) delays in screening caused a 3% and 7% increase in advanced stage CRC respectively.
Based on survival rates at five years for stage III-IV CRC, the results showed a significant 11.9% increase in deaths when comparing a zero- to three-month delay to a >12 month delay.
Screening aids the early detection of CRC, and since the rollout of screening programs across Europe there has been a steady decline in mortality rates. However, since the start of the pandemic, screening programs have been suspended in many areas across Europe.
"Around 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 lead author of the study, Professor Luigi Ricciardiello. “Healthcare authorities need to act urgently on how they reorganise activities during COVID-19, without compromising the diagnosis of other high-impact diseases like this research shows."
CRC is Europe's second largest cancer killer and the most common digestive cancer. Annually, there are 375,000 newly diagnosed cases in the EU and it claims the lives of over 170,000 people. Unhealthy lifestyles, such as diets high in processed foods, smoking and heavy alcohol consumption are linked to the development of CRC. Symptoms include persistent rectal bleeding, a change in bowel habits, abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss.
"Early-stage diagnosis of colorectal cancer is crucial, it's far easier to treat and enhances optimal patient outcomes," added Professor Ricciardiello. "It is therefore essential that vital diagnosis tools, like screening programs, continue and help to prevent mortality rates from rising even further."