COVID-19 May Increase Colon Cancer Death Rates

Colon and breast cancer incidence may increase by 10,000 over the next decade, according to a recent article in the Washington Post . Because of coronavirus quarantine measures, thousands of life-saving, preventive screenings were canceled or postponed.

“Even waiting a year on your routine colonoscopy means that an undetected polyp could grow from being an easy surgical removal to a cancer that cannot be treated at all—all within a year,” says Dr. Kevin Franklin, one of 14 gastroenterologists at San Antonio Gastroenterology Associates & Endoscopy Centers (SAGEC).

Colon and breast cancer cause one-sixth of all cancer deaths. Norman “Ned” Sharpless, Director of the National Cancer Institute, fears pandemic-related delays in cancer treatment could result in a dangerous increase in cancer death.

Sharpless asserts even a short disruption in screenings could result in a 1 percent increase and almost a million deaths from these cancers over the next decade. Doctors fear new cases of colon cancer could go undiagnosed for longer periods of time and could result in tumor detection at a later stage.

Although colonoscopy is not an elective surgery, most surgery centers, including SAGEC, began halting colon cancer screenings in March due to the pandemic. According to a publication by the Epic Heath Research Network , screening appointments for breast cancer, cervical cancer and colon cancer decreased by 86 to 94 percent in March 2020, compared to screening rates between January 2017 and January 2020.

SAGEC has resumed preventive screenings and testing in May, but it is difficult to measure the impact of delayed services. Austin Chiang, a gastroent erologist in Philadelphia, said, “On a global scale, it’s a lot of screening procedures being deferred — and maybe some cancers that could develop in this time, as well.”

Colon Cancer Screening Guidelines

The American Cancer Society recommends all adults  who are at average risk for colon cancer begin screening at age 45. Even though Medicare and many insurance carriers do not cover colonoscopies until age 50, it is important to get screened. When discovered early, the survival rate of colon cancer is up to 90 percent.

Talk to your doctor about colon cancer screening recommendations so you can get screened at proper intervals. It is also wise to call your insurance provider to receive the most updated information about your plan.

Schedule your Colonoscopy Today

Did you miss your colonoscopy because of COVID-19? If so, reschedule your colon cancer screening as soon as possible. Your overall lifetime risk for developing colon cancer is 5 percent, and the disease rarely presents with symptoms in the early stages. Therefore, it is imperative to take action based on the recommended timeline.