Research

The initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the diagnosis of new cancers at a large pathology laboratory in the public health sector, Western Cape Province, South Africa

A C van Wyk, L J de Jager, R Razack, S S van Wyk, W Kleinhans, H M Simonds, P T Schubert

Abstract


Background. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted cancer diagnostic services. A decline in the number of new cancers being diagnosed over a relatively short term implies a delay in diagnosis and subsequent treatment. This delay is expected to have a negative effect on cancerrelated morbidity and mortality. The impact of the pandemic on the number of new cancer diagnoses in our setting is unknown.
Objectives. To assess the impact of COVID-19 on the number of new cancers diagnosed at our institution in the first 3 months following the implementation of lockdown restrictions, by focusing on common non-cutaneous cancers.
Methods. A retrospective laboratory-based audit was performed at a large anatomical pathology laboratory in Western Cape Province, South Africa. The numbers of new diagnoses for six common cancers (breast, prostate, cervix, large bowel, oesophagus and stomach) from 1 April 2020 to 30 June 2020 were compared with the corresponding period in 2019.
Results. Histopathological diagnoses for the six cancers combined decreased by 193 (–36.3%), from 532 new cases in the 2019 study period to 339 in the corresponding period in 2020. Substantial declines were seen for prostate (–58.2%), oesophageal (–44.1%), breast (–32.9%), gastric (–32.6%) and colorectal cancer (–29.2%). The smallest decline was seen in cervical cancer (–7%). New breast cancers diagnosed by cytopathology declined by 61.1%.
Conclusions. The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated response resulted in a substantial decline in the number of new cancer diagnoses, implying a delay in diagnosis. Cancer-related morbidity and mortality is expected to rise as a result, with the greatest increase in mortality expected from breast and colorectal cancer.


Authors' affiliations

A C van Wyk, National Health Laboratory Service, Division of Anatomical Pathology, Tygerberg Hospital and Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

L J de Jager, National Health Laboratory Service, Division of Anatomical Pathology, Tygerberg Hospital and Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

R Razack, National Health Laboratory Service, Division of Anatomical Pathology, Tygerberg Hospital and Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

S S van Wyk, Centre for Evidence-Based Health Care, Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Department of Global Health, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

W Kleinhans, National Health Laboratory Service, Division of Haematological Pathology, Tygerberg Hospital and Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

H M Simonds, Division of Clinical and Radiation Oncology, Department of Medical Imaging and Clinical Oncology, Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

P T Schubert, National Health Laboratory Service, Division of Anatomical Pathology, Tygerberg Hospital and Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

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Keywords

Cancer; COVID-19; Pandemic; Diagnostic delay

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2021;111(6):570-574.

Article History

Date submitted: 2021-05-10
Date published: 2021-05-10

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