[의학신문·일간보사=김현기 기자] The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.
As patients’ hospital visits decreased due to COVID-19, the number of breast cancer screening tests, diagnosed patients, and surgeries all decreased, while the proportion of patients diagnosed with advanced breast cancer increased.
The research team led by Professor Young-Jun Kang of the Department of Breast Surgery at Incheon St. Mary’s Hospital of the Catholic University of Korea conducted a survey on patients aged 18 and over in six hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Medical Center.
Specifically, Professor Kang’s team analyzed the number of breast cancer screening tests, diagnosed patients, and surgeries in February-April 2020, when the number of COVID-19 patients rapidly increased and social anxiety increased, and in May-July, when Corona 19 was somewhat stabilized. They were divided into groups and compared with the same period in 2019.
As a result, the number of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients from February to July 2019, which was not affected by COVID-19, was 1,669, while in the same period in 2020, it decreased 9.9% to 1369.
According to Professor Kang’s team, the number of breast examinations (mammography or breast ultrasound) also decreased by 27.4%. In particular, in the case of February-April 2020, when the awareness of the COVID-19 crisis was prevalent, it decreased by 41% compared to the previous year.
In addition, the number of surgeries also decreased from 480 in 2019 to 438 in 2020 from February to April, and, although relatively small, decreased to 522 and 503 in May and July, respectively.
In addition, Professor Kang’s team compared the clinical stages of 2019 and 2020. As a result, the stage difference of breast cancer in February-April was not statistically significant, but it showed a difference in May-July, three months after the decrease in examination and diagnosis began. The number of patients diagnosed with stage II (IIB) breast cancer from May to July increased from 13.2% in 2019 to 17.01% in 2020, and stage IV (IV) was 4.5% in 2019 and 5.6% in 2020.
In addition, as a result of additional analysis by dividing the group based on the high-risk group for severe COVID-19, 65 years of age, it was confirmed that the difference in clinical stage was significant only in breast cancer patients younger than 65 years of age from May to July. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, although the proportion of older people who received screenings decreased more, the stage shift of breast cancer was noticeable among younger people.
Professor Kang Young-jun said, “Recently, many people delay their visit to the hospital due to the spread of the Omicron mutant virus and the increase in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19. The prognosis may also be poor,” he warned.
He continued, “As hospitals are thoroughly preparing for infection with COVID-19, it is important for young people who are at high risk for breast cancer or for screening, not to avoid the hospital unconditionally, but to pay attention to COVID-19 infection and not miss the treatment time through screening or diagnosis.” He added.
Meanwhile, the results of this study were published in the latest issue of the international scientific journal ‘Journal of Breast Cancer’.