The COVID-19 pandemic has massively changed social life in Germany. Many people go to the doctor less often because of fear of infection and undergo preventive examinations less frequently. What impact has the first wave of the pandemic had on early detection, diagnosis and treatment of new cancer cases in Bavaria? This question was investigated by the Chair of Epidemiology headed by Prof. Dr. Stefanie Klug together with the Bavarian Cancer Registry, the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety as well as the Clinic for Gynaecology and Obstetrics and the Institute for Quality Assurance and Health Services Research of the University of Regensburg.
"It had to be assumed that due to the lockdown as well as the closure of all facilities and practices from the end of March to mid-May 2020, the number of newly diagnosed cancer cases fell during this period," says Prof. Klug. "Especially during the first wave of the pandemic, important operations were postponed. This may have had a strong impact on cancer patients, because due to the closure of doctors' surgeries, screenings were stopped and early cancer detection was suspended. Afterwards, of course, it took a while for everything to start up again."
The results of the study were published under the title "Auswirkungen der COVID-19-Pandemie auf die Zahl der Krebsneuerkrankungen und Krebsbehandlungen nach Tumorstadium in Bayern" ("Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the number of new cancer cases and cancer treatments according to tumour stage in Bavaria") in the German Medical Journal (Deutsches Ärzteblatt). The official organ of the medical profession, published by the German Medical Association and the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, has an impact factor of 5.594.
One focus of the analysis was on operations for cancers in an early tumour stage (stage I). Using the data of the population-based Bavarian Cancer Registry, which were available until 26 March 2021, all new cancer cases and cancer treatments of reporters with timely registration were considered. The database included 29 of 42 certified oncological centres or organ cancer centres, 36 of 210 hospital departments and 231 of 621 outpatient facilities in five of the seven Bavarian administrative districts.
The team was able to find out that between January and September, the number of new cancer cases recorded fell from 7,361 in 2019 to 7,123 in 2020. In terms of stage, a statistically significant decrease was shown in new cases of stage I cancer. The largest decreases in this stage were found in colorectal and prostate cancer.
In terms of the first three months of the first pandemic wave (March, April and May 2020), new cancer cases decreased by 10.7 per cent (March), 18.5 per cent (April) and 16.5 per cent (May) compared to 2019. Then again, in June 2020, this number increased by 22.7 per cent compared to 2019. Surgeries for stage I new cancer cases decreased significantly, especially for colorectal and melanoma.
"It is definitely something special that this evaluation could be done so quickly and that we already had results here after a short time," explains the epidemiologist. "In perspective, we now want to carry out a second analysis or an update of the study with the complete data. So we are currently planning to do further analyses to also be able to draw a comparison between the different waves."
Prof. Dr. Stefanie Klug
Chair of Epidemiology
phone: 089 289 24950
Text: Romy Schwaiger
Photos: German Medical Journal (Deutsches Ärzteblatt)/private