COVID-19 Precipitates Sharp Decline in Cancer Testing, Diagnoses

COVID-19 Precipitates Sharp Decline in Cancer Testing, Diagnoses

An analysis of real-time data by precision diagnostic commercialization company Diaceutics and its COVID-19 oncology tracker shows that there were 31% fewer diagnoses of lung cancer in patients in March compared with the previous month. The tracker also shows that testing rates for related biomarkers such as KRAS and EGFR were down by 7% and 13% respectively.

While the decrease was most pronounced in lung cancer testing and diagnoses, the oncology tracker also recorded reduced diagnosis rates in colorectal, ovarian, and breast cancers over the same period.

“These insights highlight the devastating impact that COVID-19 is having on cancer patients, from both a social distancing and healthcare system capacity viewpoint,” said Jordan Clark, chief commercial officer of Diaceutics, in a press release. “Our research shows that laboratories are receiving fewer samples and hospitals are performing fewer biopsies. In fact, one community hospital laboratory reported that molecular oncology testing had slumped by 25%.”

According to Diacuetics, the information used for the COVID-19 oncology tracker is drawn from the company′s data lake, which includes community, commercial, and academic laboratories. Data from these sources includes claims data from both commercial and public payors, which Diaceutics can use to track the patient testing journey from diagnosis to advanced biomarker testing.

Other key findings of the COVID-19 oncology tracker include:

  • 4,000 fewer EGFR tests were performed in March alone when compounding the reduced number of patients diagnosed and reduction in testing rates.
  • New patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer dropped 14%. BRAF was down by 9%, while MSI/MMR was down by 8% and RAS was down by 6%. New acute myeloid leukemia diagnoses showed a 14% drop with FLT3 (12%), IDH1 (11%) and IDH2 (12%) testing rates all dropping.
  • Newly diagnosed breast cancer patients dropped 8.4%.
  • Ovarian cancer patient diagnoses decreased by 8.6%.

“The downturn in rates (vary) across the different types of cancer, with lung cancer being the worst affected,” Clark noted. “We suspect that this is because COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, so the symptoms that patients would normally consult their doctor about are potentially being mistaken for the novel coronavirus.”

A number of other factors play into the testing and diagnosis declines, Clark added. Regular screening is down due to reduction in the number of people having medical appointments, and repurposing of lab resources toward providing COVID-19 testing has impacted these labs’ ability to providing oncology testing. The result is fewer people getting diagnosed with cancer and, as a result fewer specific biomarker tests are being ordered.

“Optimal companion diagnostic testing is vital for getting precision medicine therapies to as many patients as possible. Our research shows that COVID-19 is having a detrimental impact on the already fractured testing ecosystem, which means that even more cancer patients are missing out on getting the treatment that is right for them at the right time,” Clark concluded.