The impact of Covid-19 on cancer screening: delays, challenges, but also opportunities

One year on from the Covid-19 outbreak the side-effects of the pandemic are increasingly coming to the surface, counting myriad consequences on most healthcare services. The whole cancer care continuum is no exception, with hospitals and oncologists struggling to provide optimal care to cancer patients. As resources are stretched to their limits, the question arises about the impact of the crisis on what comes prior to cancer treatment, i.e. cancer prevention and in particular cancer screening. This theme will be explored in the fourth webinar of the World Cancer Report Updates Learning Platform series, an online platform of WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), developed with the support of, and in collaboration with, ESMO.

The webinar, live on the platform on Thursday, 6 May at 14:00 CEST, will dive deep into three questions:

  • “What are the consequences of COVID-19 for cancer screening?”
  • “What challenges have been encountered by countries?”
  • “What could be turned into an opportunity, and what lessons have been learned?”

with examples from both low- and high-income countries.

Considered non-urgent healthcare services, cancer screening programmes have experienced complete or partial shutdowns in several countries as a response to Covid-19. By impairing timely diagnosis of new cancer cases, it is likely that global cancer mortality and morbidity will be heavily impacted in the long term. At the same time, the crisis has opened the doors to opportunities to build back better. HPV self-sampling screenings in Sweden and the possibility to leverage the vertical investments made to contain the pandemic in low-middle-income-countries (LMICs) are the two examples which will be presented during the webinar to support the argument that important lessons can be learnt from these unprecedented times.

Being prevention key to make cancer care sustainable, it is mandatory that the topic gets back the visibility and priority it deserves. Considering that 29.4 million cancer cases are expected by 2040 (+66.7% since 2018), but 30-50% of all cancers are preventable, action must be taken to ensure that no further delays are inflicted to this area due to the health crisis. Since the early days of the pandemic, ESMO has stood by the oncology professionals and has supported the oncology community to ensure they could provide the best possible care to patients. In addition, the Society has recently strengthened its commitment to cancer prevention, also by supporting and collaborating with IARC on the World Cancer Report Updates Learning Platform. 

The World Cancer Report Updates Learning Platform offers freely accessible learning material based on selected content from the World Cancer Report, which is the most important resource on cancer prevention published by IARC every five years. ESMO is calling on its members to take advantage of this resource, to ensure that oncologists become knowledgeable in prevention, are ready to commit to provide guidance and act as role models.

The learning platform is open to all and available for free. It is designed for health professionals, researchers, students, policymakers and anyone interested in cancer prevention. ESMO members can find a dedicated page on the ESMO website to facilitate access to the platform and will be reminded of newly uploaded resources through the Society Newsletter and via the Society’s social media channels.

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