Potential ‘Massive Wave’ of Cancer from Avoiding Routine Medical Care

A healthcare worker looks into an empty waiting room.
Unsplash/Foto Garage AG

A physician in Sacramento, California, said this week the cancellation of regular medical care during the coronavirus pandemic could yield a “massive wave” of cancer patients in the future.

In an interview with California Public Radio (CapRadio) Tuesday, Dignity Health thoracic surgeon Dr. Costanzo DiPerna said even though Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced in late April that hospitals and healthcare providers could resume some nonemergency medical care, many patients are still not scheduling appointments.

“Many patients are concerned about coming to visit us, to be screened for cancer, to be surveilled for their previous cancers we’ve taken out,” DiPerna explained.

From CapRadio:

What I’m concerned about right now, not just for lung cancer but for all cancers, is are there patients out there that don’t want to come in because they’re afraid of getting COVID-19? And, so, they avoid mammograms, they avoid cat scans, they avoid colonoscopies … Then in two years we’re hit with this massive wave of patients that are all at a later stage of essentially incurable cancers.

In California and many other states, medical visits governors decided are of a “nonemergency” variety have included routine mammograms, breast ultrasounds, and colonoscopies – which often detect cancers at their earliest stages, when they are most treatable.

Similarly, heart valve replacements, angioplasty, and tumor removals have all been delayed because of the orders of many governors as they focused solely on the infections caused by the Chinese coronavirus and associated massive testing and contact tracing expansions.

Hundreds of physicians, led by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), signed a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and the White House Coronavirus Task Force Friday urging the reopening of the nation’s business and schools and warning that delay will show a negative impact on the health of millions of Americans.

The physicians observed:

Our patients have suffered needlessly in pain and physical decline with disease progression because of short-sighted government edicts to stop all non-emergency care that is unrelated to COVID19. Some patients now face inevitable death because the diagnosis and treatments were delayed too long. Too many of our patients have suffered far more from the psychological, physical, and economic effects of the shutdown of communities and businesses than the direct impact of COVID 19 itself.

Additional data published Friday by global public health experts warned millions of children under a year old could be at risk for diseases such as diphtheria and polio due to the delay of their routine immunization visits to pediatricians and family practice physicians during the pandemic.

Delays in immunization efforts begun in the 1970s could have far-reaching effects.

“The countries reported at least moderate interruptions to the programs, with some countries suspending their programs completely,” STAT News reported, adding that “27 countries have postponed campaigns of vaccinations that protect against measles, while more than a dozen have paused some polio vaccination programs.”

DiPerna told CapRadio many patients are gripped by fear that they will be exposed to the coronavirus if they go into doctors’ offices for their regular medical care.

He said he has a “frank discussion” with his cancer patients whose medical care has been disrupted due to executive orders for emergency care only. These patients, he said, “need to be screened,” “evaluated,” and “need to be having surgery for cure.”

DiPerna added he is trying to reassure his patients “that the experience of seeing us, of going to the hospital, of having surgery … that experience really should not expose them, and most likely will not expose them, to COVID virus.”


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