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Cancer diagnoses drop 12% in 2020 and 38% during pandemic first wave

New data reveals the extent of the impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on other areas of medicine

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03 February 2021 11:36 AM

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ACN | Barcelona

In 2020, 12% fewer cancer cases were diagnosed in Catalonia compared to 2019, while the first wave of the pandemic saw diagnoses drop by 38%, highlighting the effect that the Covid-19 pandemic has had in other areas of medicine.

Dr. Josep Tabernero, head of oncology at Barcelona’s Vall d'Hebron hospital, explained to the Catalan News Agency that “new diagnoses” are what they are most concerned about.

Especially during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, many medical centres were transformed into Covid-19 wards. “We already have diagnosed patients on the radar, and we have reorganized care for them,” Dr. Tabernero says, but he warns that the situation is like a “transatlantic liner: it's hard to stop it, but when it stops, it's hard to get started."

"It's not that the diseases have disappeared, but that they are not being diagnosed," Tabernero warns, adding that this under-diagnosis of diseases is also happening in other countries. The oncologist also points out that the same thing that that happened with cancer is happening with other diseases too, and therefore health professionals have warned against the possibility of patients slipping through the strained system in a joint letter before the third wave.

Behind the decrease in diagnoses is the limitation of resources in the health system: "As much as we are opening new devices, health resources are finite and professionals are too," Tabernero explains. 

"It's not just more beds. You also need more CT scans, more endoscopies, more of everything. If you do a CT scan to diagnose complications of Covid-19, you can't do it to diagnose lung cancer."

The medical professional believes that "cases that were not detected in 2020 will come out this year,” meaning we’ll likely see a rise in diagnoses in 2021. “If we can't work due to the system collapsing again, we will find ourselves in the same situation again."

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  • Dr. Josep Tabernero, head of oncology at Barcelona’s Vall d'Hebron hospital, speaks in an interview with the Catalan News Agency (by Laura Fíguls)

  • Dr. Josep Tabernero, head of oncology at Barcelona’s Vall d'Hebron hospital, speaks in an interview with the Catalan News Agency (by Laura Fíguls)

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