Spike in cancer diagnoses due to 2020 delayed care
The number of cancer diagnoses increased again in 2021 to the expected level. The Integrated Cancer Center of the Netherlands (IKNL) reported this in the run-up to World Cancer Day on Friday. Due to the pandemic, the number of diagnoses decreased in 2020. But according to the center, this did not lead to more severe diagnoses like metastases in new patients.
Last year, 124,000 people were told they had cancer, 11,000 more than in 2020 and 4,000 more than in 2019. On average, the number of diagnoses increases by 2,000 cases annually due to population growth and the growing proportion of older people. In 2020, however, the number of cancer diagnoses was lower than in 2019. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, people postponed a visit to the GP. The population screenings for cancer were also suspended in 2020, and a lot of regular care was postponed due to the pandemic.
In the first coronavirus year, that postponement of examinations and, therefore, diagnoses did not lead to an increase in people getting their diagnoses too late, according to the IKNL. It was feared that people whose examination was postponed in the spring of 2020, for example, would be diagnosed with a more advanced stage of the disease later that year.
"Although there was no increase at the population level in 2020, it cannot be ruled out that a later diagnosis may have had serious consequences in a relatively small number of patients," the IKNL added. It is also still unclear what the effect of the low number of diagnoses in 2020 was in 2021 and later.
Breast cancer was the most common cancer diagnosis in 2021. Last year, 15,700 people got this diagnosis. Relatively many people, 14,900, were told they have squamous cell carcinoma of the skin (a type of skin cancer). Lung cancer was diagnosed in 14,700 people, prostate cancer in 13,700 people, and 12,900 people were diagnosed with colon cancer. A third of new patients in 2021 were 75 years old or older. In 6 percent of cases, the patient was younger than 45.
KWF Kankerbestrijding stressed the importance of a timely diagnosis. Based on the figures from IKNL, the organization sees that the coronavirus had less impact than feared. "But there are individual cases in which the diagnosis was made too late, and that is very serious. That is why it remains important to go to the GP if you have complaints and to respond to the call of the population screening."
Reporting by ANP