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Severe Cancer Is on the Rise

Doctors say some cases are worse than they've seen in years.

May 4 / Dan Robitzski
National Cancer Institute / Futurism
Image by National Cancer Institute / Futurism

As the coronavirus pandemic enters its 15th official month, patients who decided to avoid doctor’s appointments to minimize infection risk are now being diagnosed with shockingly severe cases of cancer that unfortunately went ignored for months.

Preventive cancer screenings dropped by about 94 percent during the first months of the pandemic, and as a result cancer cases went either undetected or untreated, both due to patients avoiding medical centers and the hospitals themselves deciding to cancel appointments or slash non-coronavirus-related services, ProPublica reports. New diagnoses dropped by over 50 percent for some kinds of cancers.

In other words, even as the US grapples with the ongoing pandemic, other health emergencies that were swept under the rug will soon have their reckoning.

Now, as a result, The National Cancer Institute predicts that we may see nearly 10,000 excess deaths from breast cancer and colorectal cancer alone over the next decade — due to cases that went ignored over the course of the pandemic. And some of these cases, oncologists told ProPublica now that they’re once again seeing cancer patients, are the worst they’ve encountered in recent memory.

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For instance, one woman told ProPublica that she endured chest pain and inflammation for half a year because she was afraid of catching COVID-19 at the hospital on top of other concerns like missing work and losing her job — and with it her ability to pay for her home and care for her three kids. When she finally got her breast cancer diagnosis, her oncologist at Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital said it was the worst case she’d seen in a decade.

“If she would have come six months earlier, it could have been just surgery, chemo and done,” Dr. Paramjeet Khosla told ProPublica. “Now she’s incurable.”


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