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Cancer: Doctors warn of the lack of tests due to Corona

The number of investigations is declining
Effects of the Corona pandemic: Doctors warn of the lack of early detection and follow-up care for cancer patients

Cancer: Doctors warn of a lack of examinations

Because of the Corona pandemic, many people are giving up cancer screening. So doctors expect major problems within 1-2 years

© Jan-Peter Kasper / DPA

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals are seeing a decline in pre- and post-cancer care. Doctors warn of dire consequences in the coming years.

Many hospitals because of CoronaThe pandemic is overburdened. Very unnecessary treatments are often postponed. But doctors are now warning about exactly this, especially with regard to cancer.

The pandemic is not only affecting acute care for cancer patients, but also leaving shortfalls in early detection and aftercare, according to experts. “In a year or two we will still have a difficult situation,” says Susan Weig Remmers of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg. She understands the reluctance to go to a clinic or hospital just for preventive care. “For fear of infection, many people do not benefit from early detection of cancer.” Mammography and colonoscopy are used much less frequently than before the pandemic.

The president of the German Cancer Society (DKG), Thomas Zufferlin, is hesitant about everything: “The majority of corona infections do not occur in clinics and practices, but in the private sector, because preventive measures tend to be dispensed with there.”

From an expert’s point of view, early detection of cancer helps identify tumors when there is still a good chance of a cure. “There are already initial stages to be recognized,” explains Weg-Remers. This is especially true for colon and cervical cancer. But for some people, these benefits are less important than the risks of contracting a corona infection. “We will deal with more advanced cancers in the coming years,” the doctor asserts.

Many Germans ignore cancer screening tests

In any case, not many Germans take advantage of early detection offers. According to the AOK, the relevant portion of the insured persons who are due within a ten-year period of crepesEarly detection has not yet been achieved or has been achieved only to a limited extent. And during the pandemic, according to the health insurance company, there has been a stagnation in early cancer detection, raising fears of health repercussions. Particularly strong declines of about 20 percent were recorded in early detection of skin cancer in 2020, with another downward trend at the beginning of 2021. A decrease in participation rates compared to 2019 was found of 8.1 percent for each of the mammography screenings. and early detection of prostate cancer. In early detection of cervical cancer, it was less than 5.5%.

Parmer underscores a similar trend: According to the health insurance company, surgical interventions for cancer fell 26.3 percent in 2020. Radiation treatments registered less than 28 percent. Even in 2021, the level before Corona was not reached again, says Ursula Marshall, chief medical officer at Barmer. In terms of early detection, it is estimated that 71,000 people in Germany They received no or late diagnoses of cancer, including 11,000 breast cancer patients and 9,000 melanoma patients. Marshall sums it up: “We hypothesize that this will lead to a significant increase in cancer mortality.”

One in five people does not undergo a medical examination because of Corona

in one of OK In a chance survey conducted in May 2021, one in five reported that they could not or did not want to go for one or more cancer screenings due to COVID-19.

DKG chief Seufferlein also notes the low early detection: “People are avoiding cancer screening not only for fear of corona infection, but because they don’t want to put an extra burden on the health system.” Especially in the case of common types of cancer such as breast, colon and ovarian cancer, the use of early detection has been reduced at the onset of the pandemic.

Long-time oncologist Andreas Schalhorn appeals to everyone who has the slightest suspicion of a tumor to clarify this question despite Corona: “Clarification should not be postponed under any circumstances.” The doctor from Munich advises a full vaccination against Corona to reduce the possibility of infection during examinations.

The decrease in diagnosis is reflected in the number of operations

Even with aftercare for cancer patients, things aren’t going well, says Seufferlein, MD, medical director of internal medicine at Ulm University Hospital. “At the height of the epidemic, the number of follow-up patients also decreased by 30 percent.” This is unfortunate, because follow-up care – that is, ongoing medical and psycho-social support – is very important for the first five years after tumor removal, after which the risk of recurrence drops dramatically. According to Weg-Remers, a quarter of the follow-up appointments for cancer patients at cancer centers at university hospitals in Germany were scheduled in December 2021 less than they were before the pandemic.

The decrease in diagnoses is also reflected in the decrease in cancer processes. Based on AOK’s billing data in the pandemic period from March 2020 to July 2021, there was a 13 percent decrease in the number of colon cancer operations and 4 percent in breast cancer operations compared to 2019. According to AOK, over the medium term, AOK showed a greater proportion of risk scores. Higher in diseases – and thus affect the mortality rate. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Germany: more than 231,000 people died from it in 2020.

pgo / Julia Gertz

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