On January 28, 2021, Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) and more than 75 national cancer centers and organizations endorsed an open letter from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) urging Americans to resume regular cancer screenings and treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. MSK is proud to align with these prestigious institutions on this vitally important message.
Recent research published in JAMA Network Open shows that delaying cancer care for even a few months may result in a much higher death rate across several common cancers, most notably for colon and early-stage lung cancer. Similarly, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) predicts almost 10,000 excess deaths in the US from breast and colorectal cancer alone over the next 10 years due to pandemic-related delays in cancer screening and treatment.
Data also shows that people have been skipping their essential cancer screenings. In the United States, studies have found more than one third of adults failed to receive recommended cancer screening during the pandemic. Another study published in the JAMA Network Open found diagnoses for six major cancer types dropped by nearly 50 percent.
Cancer screening helps find tumors early when they are more likely to respond to treatment, but these trends show that right now many cancers are going undiagnosed and untreated. This can have damaging ripple effects — delays in finding and treating cancerous tumors allows them to grow and metastasize, making them more difficult to treat and often harder to cure. A recent increase in cancer diagnoses for younger people observed in several cancers, such as colorectal cancer, is also concerning. Since the pandemic began, MSK oncologists have strongly urged patients to reach out to their doctors to reschedule primary care check-ups and recommended cancer screenings, and this call to action remains more important than ever as the pandemic continues.
“Cancer care is essential care, and we don’t want our patients to put their life-saving treatment on hold. We are committed to ensuring that patients have access to the world-class cancer care they expect from MSK, in a safe and healthy environment,” said Lisa M. DeAngelis, MD, MSK’s Physician-in-Chief and Chief Medical Officer. She continued by explaining that “a majority of people feel entirely well, [so they] don’t really feel the need to undergo a screening procedure and feel it’s safe to postpone. [However,] COVID-19 is here to stay, and we all have to learn to coexist with the coronavirus and yet continue all of the regular healthcare that is so essential.”