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New Research in JNCCN Measures Drop in Cancer Detection Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Study out of Ontario, Canada, finds an immediate diagnosis decrease of 34% in March 2020, followed by a slow and incomplete recovery.

JNCCN Cover, March 2022PLYMOUTH MEETING, PA [March 14, 2022] — Research in the March 2022 issue of JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network examined data from the Ontario Cancer Registry from September 25, 2016 through September 26, 2020, to determine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the number of new cancer cases detected. They found 358,487 adult patients had a new cancer diagnosed during that time period. The week-to-week rate of diagnosis was steady before the pandemic, but dropped 34.3% in March of 2020. After that, there was a trend of 1% increase in new diagnoses every week for the rest of the study period.

Antoine Eskander, MD, ScM, ICES, Toronto, Ontario“Our data demonstrates that many cancers have gone undetected due to the disruptions in the healthcare system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” explained Antoine Eskander, MD, ScM, ICES, Toronto, Ontario. “This is concerning because a delay in diagnosis for cancer is associated with a lower chance of cure. Healthcare providers should encourage patients to catch up on their cancer screening if any have been missed during the pandemic, and should use a low threshold to investigate patients with any unusual symptoms that may be related to an undiagnosed cancer.”

The drop in new diagnoses was found in both screening cancers—those that have formal screening programs such as cervical cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer (and sometimes lung cancer)—and non-screening cancers. The researchers estimate approximately 12,600 cancers went undetected between March 15 and September 26, 2020. The largest decreases in diagnoses were found in melanoma, cervical, endocrine, and prostate cancers.

“The pandemic has caused dramatic changes in the health care system, including a worrisome decline in cancer screening,” commented Harold Burstein, MD, PhD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who was not involved with this research. “This study is a well done report from Ontario, Canada, where province-wide records are available, and it shows a huge decline in screening for colorectal (colonoscopy), cervical (Pap smear), and breast cancer (mammogram) in the early months of the pandemic. Similar findings have been reported at major health centers across North America, Europe, and other countries with widespread screening programs.”

Dr. Burstein—a member of the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) Panel for Breast Cancer—continued: “Despite the pandemic, it is critical that people continue to get recommended cancer screenings. With the COVID precautions that clinics have put in place, it is very safe for people to see their medical team for routine mammograms, pap smears, and other important testing. Fortunately, here in Boston and many other centers, our numbers of screening mammograms are recovering rapidly after the lull in 2020, and we are doing all we can to remind people of the importance of regular screening.”

NCCN has also teamed up with cancer groups across the country to share information about the importance and safety of cancer screening. Learn more about how “Cancer Won’t Wait and Neither Should You” at

To read the entire study, visit Complimentary access to “Incident Cancer Detection During the COVID-19 Pandemic” is available until June 10, 2022.

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About JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network

More than 25,000 oncologists and other cancer care professionals across the United States read JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. This peer-reviewed, indexed medical journal provides the latest information about innovation in translational medicine, and scientific studies related to oncology health services research, including quality care and value, bioethics, comparative and cost effectiveness, public policy, and interventional research on supportive care and survivorship. JNCCN features updates on the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®), review articles elaborating on guidelines recommendations, health services research, and case reports highlighting molecular insights in patient care. JNCCN is published by Harborside. Visit To inquire if you are eligible for a FREE subscription to JNCCN, visit Follow JNCCN on Twitter @JNCCN.

About the National Comprehensive Cancer Network

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) is a not-for-profit alliance of leading cancer centers devoted to patient care, research, and education. NCCN is dedicated to improving and facilitating quality, effective, equitable, and accessible cancer care so all patients can live better lives. The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) provide transparent, evidence-based, expert consensus recommendations for cancer treatment, prevention, and supportive services; they are the recognized standard for clinical direction and policy in cancer management and the most thorough and frequently-updated clinical practice guidelines available in any area of medicine. The NCCN Guidelines for Patients® provide expert cancer treatment information to inform and empower patients and caregivers, through support from the NCCN Foundation®. NCCN also advances continuing education, global initiatives, policy, and research collaboration and publication in oncology. Visit for more information and follow NCCN on Facebook @NCCNorg, Instagram @NCCNorg, and Twitter @NCCN.