Study reveals drastic decline in cancer diagnoses during COVID-19 pandemic

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Amid the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, a comprehensive analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) highlights a concerning trend: a significant decrease in cancer diagnoses across the United States throughout 2020. The study, titled “Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Cancer Diagnoses in the US: A Population-Based Analysis,” sheds light on the profound disruption to cancer screening and detection during the pandemic.

Led by a team of researchers from diverse institutions, this population-based cross-sectional study examined cancer incidence trends using data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The analysis encompassed cases of invasive cancer diagnosed from January 2018 to December 2020, providing valuable insights into the impact of the pandemic on cancer detection rates.

Key Findings:

  • The study included over 1.2 million reported cancer cases in the US between March and December 2020, with an age-adjusted incidence rate of 326.5 cases per 100,000 population.
  • During the height of the pandemic response (March-May 2020), observed rates of all-sites cancer incidence were 28.6% lower than expected. This trend persisted, albeit to a lesser extent, from June to December 2020, resulting in an overall 13.0% reduction in cancer diagnoses during the first 10 months of the pandemic.
  • The analysis estimated that there were potentially 134,395 undiagnosed cancer cases during the study period, highlighting a substantial deficit in cancer detection.
  • Prostate cancer accounted for the largest number of potentially missed cases, followed by female breast and lung cancers.


  • The findings underscore the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer diagnosis rates, raising concerns about delayed detection and potential adverse outcomes for patients.
  • Disparities were observed across different cancer sites, stages of diagnosis, and population subgroups, indicating the need for targeted interventions to address specific areas of concern.
  • The study emphasises the importance of reengaging individuals in recommended cancer screenings and routine health care visits to mitigate the long-term consequences of missed diagnoses.

As the world continues to grapple with the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing the disruptions to cancer diagnosis and care remains a critical priority. The findings of this study serve as a wake-up call, highlighting the urgent need for concerted efforts to ramp up cancer screening efforts and ensure timely detection and treatment. By prioritizing proactive measures to address the backlog of undiagnosed cases, healthcare systems can mitigate the impact of the pandemic on cancer outcomes and safeguard public health moving forward.

Paper: Burus TLei FHuang B, et al. Undiagnosed Cancer Cases in the US During the First 10 Months of the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Oncol. Published online February 22, 2024. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2023.6969  Access online here.


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The ONA Editor curates oncology news, views and reviews from Australia and around the world for our readers. In aggregated content, original sources will be acknowledged in the article footer.

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