COVID pandemic led to thousands of missed prostate cancer cases, UK study finds

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Many thousands of prostate cancer cases were missed during the disruption of the COVID pandemic.

Those are the findings of a new study published in BJU International last month.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and other U.K. universities analyzed a dataset of 285,160 participants from OpenSAFELY-TPP, a large, nationally representative dataset of routine health care records.

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They focused on 165,410 men in the U.K. who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer between Jan. 2015 and July 2023.

In 2020, diagnoses of prostate cancer dropped by 31% over the prior year.

Man diagnosis

Many thousands of prostate cancer cases were missed during the disruption of the COVID pandemic, a new study found. (iStock)

The decrease was 18% in 2021. 

By 2022, the diagnosed cases had returned to expected levels.

“Given that our dataset represents 40% of the population, we estimate that proportionally the pandemic led to 20,000 missed prostate cancer diagnoses in England alone,” the researchers wrote in the study discussion. 

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During that time, the age at the time of diagnosis shifted to older individuals.

“The increase in incidence recorded in 2023 was not enough to account for the missed cases,” the researchers also stated — which means the diagnoses have not yet “caught up” to those that flew under the radar in 2020 and 2021.

Based on these findings, the researchers are recommending that health care providers focus on finding the men who were affected. 

Man cancer treatment

Diagnoses of prostate cancer in 2020 dropped by 31% over the prior year, a new study has revealed. (iStock)

“More research is needed to investigate the consequences of this on patients and health care systems,” they noted.

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, pointed out that there is no universal screening program in the U.K. for prostate cancer.

“That’s because the feeling is that the PSA [prostate-specific antigen] may be inaccurate,” said Siegel, who was not involved in the new U.K. study. 

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“I disagree with that, because most of us here in the U.S. (primary care docs and urologists) follow trends in the PSA, knowing it isn’t perfect but using it as a guide to something going on in the prostate.”

The PSA is a blood test that measures the level of a specific protein that is made by the prostate.

Prostate model

There is no universal screening program in the U.K. for prostate cancer, Dr. Marc Siegel of New York City noted. (iStock)

“In the U.K., there is currently a massive ongoing study on the effectiveness of different kinds of screening modalities for prostate cancer, but in the U.S., many major medical centers — including mine — have already integrated the latest MRI tests to look at patients with high PSA or increasing trends prior to prostate biopsy,” Siegel told Fox News Digital.

“The delayed diagnoses in the U.K. are not surprising.” 

“The MRI also allows you to target the biopsy to a certain area of abnormality when needed.”

Regarding the effects of the pandemic, Siegel noted that lockdowns led to a delay in routine medical care both in the U.S. and in the U.K.

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“The delayed diagnoses in the U.K. are not surprising,” he added.

The study did have some limitations, the researchers acknowledged.

First, it focused only on data from England — so it does not apply to global populations.

X-Ray Cancer Patient

Based on the new findings, the researchers recommend that health care providers focus on finding the men who were affected.  (iStock)

It is also possible that some cases were missed, as the diagnoses were pulled from primary care health records rather than cancer registries.

“However, in the U.K., the information about cancer diagnosis is sent to primary care within the hospital discharge letters and primary care is a valid source of these data,” the researchers stated.

“We validated the results against other published studies, and they closely align, confirming the validity of the methodology.”

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The study doesn’t prove that COVID caused the dip in diagnoses, the researchers noted — as it’s possible there are “multiple explanatory factors not limited to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

But the study did note that “during the COVID-19 pandemic, the resources, and the attention in healthcare systems globally, shifted toward preventing and managing COVID-19. Access to the non-COVID-19-related healthcare services changed, waiting times increased, and cancer pathways including treatment standards were adapted.”

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It also said, in part, that “patients’ healthcare-seeking behavior changed as people adopted social distancing (limiting face-to-face contact) and shielding (safeguarding high-risk people) to protect themselves and others from an infection.”

Fox News Digital reached out to the study authors for additional comment.

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