Many patients are delaying their recommended cancer screenings because of fear of death from COVID-19 coronavirus infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, those fears may not align with real-world outcomes, the agency said, when it reported July 2021 study findings from Arkansas and North Carolina.

For the study, researchers matched data in the Arkansas Central Cancer Registry and North Carolina Central Cancer Registry for people with cancer to those who tested positive for COVID-19. Arkansas found that nearly all patients with cancer recovered from COVID-19.

“The registry found that nearly 11,000 patients with cancer and survivors had tested positive COVID-19 [from March 11, 2020–March 1, 2021],” CDC said. “Fortunately, most of them (93%) recovered from their infection. Of the 672 patients who had the virus and died, COVID-19, not cancer, was the primary cause of death for 75% of them.”

“Fear and anxiety play a major role in patients with a cancer diagnosis,” Arkansas Central Cancer Registry Director Abby Holt, MPH, MLIS, said. “The added fear of contracting COVID-19 could cause treatment refusals and delays and affect cancer survivorship. That makes it important to understand the short-term and the long-term effects of the pandemic.”

CDC said that the North Carolina Central Cancer Registry “linked data for 1.5 million patients diagnosed with cancer from 1990–2019 with data for 142,575 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 from March–September 2020. The results showed that 5,496 patients with cancer had tested positive for COVID-19.”

The results will help healthcare providers have patient education conversations about cancer screening guide strategies for future data collection on cancer and COVID-19, such as test results and treatment delays. In addition, the studies will continue to track how COVID-19 is affecting cancer patients and survivors.

“We will look for more information that helps us understand the effect of the pandemic. For example, do short-term delays in screening lead to more advanced-stage cancers at the time of diagnosis? Was there a delay in treatment for patients diagnosed with female breast, prostate, colorectal, and endocrine cancers, the most prevalent cancers among patients with COVID-19?” North Carolina Central Cancer Registry Director Chandrika Rao, PhD, said. “Our findings will help public health leaders and the cancer surveillance community understand the risks and barriers associated with COVID-19 and cancer outcomes.”

Oncology nurses can use ONS Voice’s guide to COVID-19 and cancer to inform their care of patients with both diseases. Learn more about the pandemic’s effect on cancer care and health policy by viewing the ONS Voice COVID-19 topic tag.