Pandemic lockdowns bring jump in missed cancer surgeries

A new global study has found one in seven cancer patients missed a scheduled surgery due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

“The implication for people with cancer is significant, and the full impact is not yet known. It is only a matter of time before elective surgery becomes urgent,” said Janet Martin in a statement.

Martin is a Canadian principal investigator for the COVIDSurg Collaborative study, and associate professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

She added, “Never before have we experienced a global surgery shutdown as that precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic."

The study, led by the University of Birmingham, found during full lockdowns 15 per cent of of patients did not receive their planned operation after a median of 5.3 months following diagnosis -- all due to COVID-19-related reasons.

When lighter restrictions were in place, rather than a lockdown, that rate was just 0.6 per cent.

For the study, almost 5,000 surgeons and anesthetists analyzed data on the 15 most common solid cancer types, covering 20,000 patients at 466 hospitals in 61 countries.

Researchers say patients who waited more than six weeks during full lockdown were much less likely to get the planned surgery, including frail patients, those with advanced cancer and those in lower-middle income countries.

While the lockdowns have been essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Martin added, “Caring for complications of COVID-19 competes with the same set of resources as surgery. Surgical systems in Canada and around the globe need to urgently coordinate plans, prioritize resources, and implement strategies to reverse the ongoing pandemic effect on cancer surgery.”

She said getting vaccinated and following public health measures are essential to reduce cases and allow the surgical system to recover so backlogs can be cleared.

The study was published in The Lancet Oncology.