Social distancing and other measures to control the spread of coronavirus infection have disrupted clinical visits, lab tests, and tumor imaging to such a degree that it could set back progress in lowering cancer deaths among Americans, the National Cancer Institute warns.
“We know that delayed diagnosis and delayed therapy lead to worse outcomes for patients with cancer,” said NCI Director Ned Sharpless during a May 31 virtual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Data from cancer studies was less than half the normal amount in March and April, Sharpless told the group.
“Clinical trials are how we make progress for patients with cancer, and these decreases in accrual will translate into reduced new approaches for patients,” said Sharpless.
For several weeks, nearly all states banned “nonessential” activities, which included physician office visits, out of fear that hospitals would be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.
Testing for the virus, which might have expedited cancer visits, got off to a slow start. In early March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was the only agency granted Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to distribute COVID-19 testing kits. The tests, however, contained defective reagents and had to be sent back, delaying testing nationwide.