As COVID-19 swept across the country, many people put off critical screening and diagnostic tests for detecting cancers. Due to the delay caused by the pandemic, experts are seeing more patients present with advanced stages of cancers that would have otherwise been detected earlier with standard screening practices.
Healthcare professionals are seeing the increase in delayed cancer diagnosis and treatments universally, but especially among low-income people of color. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Blacks and Hispanics are about twice as likely as White people to die of COVID-19. While some steps have been taken to improve health disparities, experts fear that the pandemic will eliminate all the improvements that have been made over the years.
Sophie M. Balzora, MD, a gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Health, echoes this concern. “The pause in colorectal cancer screening in early 2020 has hurt progress against the disease in Black Americans, the racial group most likely to be diagnosed with the illness and to die of it.”
“It is going to be a huge mountain to climb to get back to where we were” in narrowing disparities, Dr. Balzora says. “People will be diagnosed at a later stage, and the later your stage, the worse your likelihood of survival.”
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