Delays in cancer surgeries, screening can be devastating, says Canadian Cancer Society

According to one study, a four-week delay in cancer treatment increases the risk of patient death by about 10 per cent, a spokesperson says.

Elizabeth Payne 3 minute read January 7, 2022

As a new round of cancer surgeries, screening tests and treatments are being postponed in Ontario due to the pandemic, the Canadian Cancer Society is warning that delays can have devastating consequences.

“Cancer doesn’t stop being a life-changing and life-threatening disease in the middle of a global health pandemic. Every effort must be made to ensure cancer surgeries are prioritized during this difficult time,” said Stephen Piazza, director of advocacy (public engagement) at the Canadian Cancer Society.

He says the society is hearing from people with cancer who “feel forgotten” during the pandemic as surgeries and screening tests get cancelled and postponed, with more postponements in the coming weeks as the Omicron variant races across the country.

According to one study, a four-week delay in cancer treatment increases the risk of patient death by about 10 per cent, Piazza said.

It is not just surgeries that have been postponed during the pandemic in Ontario.

In 2020, the first year of the global pandemic, there were 43 per cent fewer mammograms completed in the province compared to a year earlier, 43 per cent fewer fecal immunochemical tests, which screen for colorectal cancers, and 40 per cent fewer Pap tests, which screen for cervical cancer. The numbers were obtained by the Canadian Cancer Society through a freedom of information request to Ontario Health, the super agency that oversees health care in the province.

Surveys done by the Canadian Cancer Society between 2020 and 2021 support those findings about cancer procedures and surgeries being postponed.

Almost half of the people surveyed reported disruptions in the first wave of the pandemic.

“Because of cancer screening, surgeries and interventions essential to cancer care being postponed last year, and disruptions happening once again now, we are concerned that there could be serious impacts as a result of delays to cancer diagnosis and treatment,” Piazza said.

“Through our support programs, we hear from people with cancer who feel forgotten. People facing cancer and their caregivers need assurances that their care will be prioritized and that there is a plan in place to ramp up care once again after this latest wave of the pandemic is behind us.”

In Ottawa, as cancer patients are learning about surgeries being postponed, some support groups say they are hearing from patients unsure of what they should do. As of Wednesday, the province ordered hospitals to restrict surgeries and procedures to cope with record high case loads and staff shortages. The Ottawa Hospital has said it is assessing surgeries on an individual basis.

There have been calls in Ontario for cancer surgeries to continue as essential surgery during pandemic shutdowns. Currently, only emergent and urgent surgeries are going ahead.


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