BACKGROUND AND AIMS
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic had a sudden, dramatic impact on healthcare. In Italy, since the beginning of the pandemic, colorectal cancer (CRC) screening programs have been forcefully suspended. We aimed to evaluate whether screening procedure delays can affect the outcomes of CRC screening.
We built a procedural model considering delays in the time to colonoscopy and estimating the effect on mortality due to up-stage migration of patients. The number of expected CRC cases was computed by using the data of the Italian screened population. Estimates of the effects of delay to colonoscopy on CRC stage, and of stage on mortality were assessed by a meta-analytic approach.
With a delay of 0-3 months, 74% of CRC is expected to be stage I-II, while with a delay of 4-6 months there would be a 2%-increase for stage I-II and a concomitant decrease for stage III-IV (p=0.068). Compared to baseline (0-3-months), moderate (7-12-months) and long (>12-months) delays would lead to a significant increase in advanced CRC (from 26% to 29% and 33%, respectively; p=0.008 and p<0.001, respectively). We estimated a significant increase in the total number of deaths (+12.0%) when moving from a 0-3-months to a >12-month delay (p=0.005), and a significant change in mortality distribution by stage when comparing the baseline with the >12-months (p<0.001).
Screening delays beyond 4-6 months would significantly increase advanced CRC cases, and also mortality if lasting beyond 12 months. Our data highlight the need to reorganize efforts against high-impact diseases such as CRC, considering possible future waves of SARS-CoV-2 or other pandemics.