Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the virus has been a threat to cancer patients. Elderly cancer patients are among the most at risk of severe illness from the coronavirus.
Preventative COVID-19 measures led many patients to delay cancer screenings and treatment. Delays and limited access to care may impact cancer survival rates in the coming years.
How Has COVID-19 Impacted Cancer Care?
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected the United States cancer care system. Cancer patients and immunocompromised individuals were told to stay at home to avoid contact with the virus.
Mesothelioma patients were among those at risk of complications from COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended mesothelioma patients and other cancer patients take preventative measures to avoid severe illness.
Stay-at-home orders across the country led many people to delay treatment and cancer care. In a study of U.S. Medicare patients, researchers compared data from March – July 2020 to a baseline period, March – July 2019.
From 2019 to 2020, researchers found a decrease in:
- Cancer screenings
- Care visits
- Therapy visits
- Cancer surgeries
Hospitals and healthcare providers also limited non-emergency screenings and surgeries. These precautions were to reduce coronavirus spread and increase hospital capacity.
According to the study, there was a significant decrease in several surgical procedures, including:
These surgeries often help eliminate or slow the spread of cancerous tumors. The strain on hospital resources caused by the pandemic resulted in less surgical availability and cancer care delays.
Why Did Cancer Diagnoses Decrease?
The number of new cancer diagnoses initially declined at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Researchers say the drop in diagnoses may be partially connected to a decrease in cancer screenings.
According to the Medicare study, in April 2020, cancer screenings decreased by:
- 85% for breast cancer
- 75% for colon cancer
- 74% for prostate cancer
- 56% for lung cancer
Cancer screenings and early detection is the best way to improve prognosis. Often, early cancer detection allows for more aggressive treatment options.
When screenings are delayed, undetected cancer may grow and progress to later stages. The decrease in screenings and delayed care during COVID-19 could result in higher cancer mortality rates.
How COVID-19 Affected Mesothelioma Cancer Care
Mesothelioma patients and individuals with other asbestos-related diseases are at high risk of serious COVID-19 complications. These individuals may have delayed appointments or screenings to prevent COVID-19 exposure.
Like mesothelioma, COVID-19 can impact the respiratory system. Mesothelioma patients with compromised immune systems risk severe illness from coronavirus.
Those who’ve experienced asbestos exposure in the past often have routine healthcare visits and cancer screenings.
Early mesothelioma diagnosis is critical to improve life expectancy.
The earlier mesothelioma is diagnosed, there are often more treatment options available to patients. However, the COVID-19 pandemic may cause some patients to delay care, which can result in a late-stage mesothelioma diagnosis.
Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis During COVID-19
Individuals with a known history of asbestos exposure should be aware of symptoms related to both diseases. By understanding a patient’s medical history, doctors can determine an accurate diagnosis.
COVID-19 Impact on Elderly Mesothelioma Patients
Cancer screening and treatment delays may have a high impact on elderly cancer patients. These patients are at risk of complications due to age and health status.
Mesothelioma may take up to 50 years to develop after initial asbestos exposure. As a result, many mesothelioma patients are diagnosed at an advanced age.
The CDC recommends at-risk individuals, such as elderly mesothelioma patients, use telehealth services when possible and continue to seek care. Delayed mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment could negatively affect survival rate.
Regardless of age, mesothelioma patients should contact their doctor about the best way to continue care. A mesothelioma doctor can advise patients on potential COVID-19 risks and determine the best way to proceed with treatment and scheduled screenings.