Cancer experts are warning that the fear of contracting COVID-19 may result in delayed mesothelioma diagnosis and worse outcomes for some patients.
A study from the Epic Health Research Network shows that many patients delayed cancer screenings and other preventative health appointments during the pandemic.
Although the numbers have started to increase, the trend may mean that some patients have already faced a delayed mesothelioma diagnosis.
Understanding Pleural Mesothelioma
Pleural mesothelioma is a fast-growing cancer on the tissue that surrounds the lungs and lines the chest wall. It is most common in people who lived or worked around asbestos.
Even in the best of times, mesothelioma is extremely difficult to diagnose. Most mesothelioma patients have very few symptoms until the disease is advanced. By the time most patients experience mesothelioma symptoms, it may already be too late for effective treatment.
The prevalence of delayed mesothelioma diagnosis is one reason that mesothelioma is such a deadly cancer. Many people who contract asbestos cancer die within a year of diagnosis.
Cancer researchers around the world are looking for ways to prevent delayed mesothelioma diagnosis and save lives.
Avoiding Delayed Mesothelioma Diagnosis
The first set of data on cancer screening delays came out last May. It showed that colon cancer screenings dropped by 86 percent after the declaration of the COVID-19 national emergency. Screenings for breast and cervical cancer dropped by 94 percent.
Even some people at high risk for these cancers did not show up for screenings. They were worried about contracting COVID-19. Screenings have picked up since then, but the updated Epic study shows they are still way below normal..
“We still haven’t caught up,” Dr. Chris Mast, vice president of clinical informatics for Epic, told the New York Times.
There is no reliable screening test for mesothelioma. Older people who worked with asbestos are at highest risk. But research shows they may still reduce the chance of delayed mesothelioma diagnosis by seeing a doctor regularly.
If a doctor suspects mesothelioma, he or she can order tests to look further. CT scans, blood tests, and even new breath tests can help determine if the patient should have a biopsy. Biopsy is the only way to know for sure if a person has mesothelioma.
New Screening Guidelines May Support Earlier Mesothelioma Diagnosis
New screening guidelines for smokers might help avoid some cases of delayed mesothelioma diagnosis. The guidelines recommend yearly CT screenings for people over 50 who smoked the equivalent of 20 packs a day.
If a smoker with early mesothelioma has a CT scan, it may alert the doctor. Some small mesothelioma tumors can be surgically removed and chemotherapy may keep them from coming back. Delayed mesothelioma diagnosis reduces the chance of successful treatment.
“Delayed Cancer Screenings—A Second Look”, Epic Health Research Network, https://ehrn.org/articles/delayed-cancer-screenings-a-second-look
Abelson, Reed, “Advanced Cancers Are Emerging, Doctors Warn, Citing Pandemic Drop in Screenings”, March 17, 2021, New York Times online, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/17/health/cancer-screenings-decline-breast-colon.html