In a commentary published in The Lancet Oncology, Dinmohamed et al detailed a nationwide reduction in cancer diagnoses in the Netherlands in the several weeks following the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country compared with the several weeks preceding the first documented case. This reduction in diagnoses was particularly noted in skin cancer.
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As stated by the investigators, the Netherlands provides citizens with universal access to essential health-care services, with the general practitioner serving as the gatekeeper to secondary care.
Data from the nationwide Netherlands Cancer Registry were used to compare numbers of cancer diagnoses per week during the period from February 24, 2020, through April 12, 2020, with diagnoses made between the week of January 6 and the week of February 17. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 infection in the Netherlands was diagnosed on February 27. During the period in the analysis, strict social distancing policies were implemented by the government as of March 15, and national screening programs for breast, colorectal, and cervical cancer were temporarily halted as of March 16 to ease demand on the health-care system.
The investigators identified the following trends in numbers of diagnoses:
Potential factors in the reduction in diagnoses cited by the investigators included:
As related by the investigators, in response to the reduction in diagnoses, the Netherlands Comprehensive Cancer Organisation disseminated knowledge of the reduction to the public along with the following messages:
The authors concluded, “This information can also guide the public, policymakers, and physicians in the future whenever an outbreak of a similar magnitude occurs.”
Sabine Siesling, PhD, of the Department of Health Technology and Services Research, Technical Medical Centre, University of Twente, Enschede, is the corresponding author for The Lancet Oncology article.
Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit thelancet.com.The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.