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Friday, October 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Has the pandemic led to missed cancer diagnoses and other gaps in care? Local researchers want to find out

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 10, 2020

FILE - This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., in 2020, shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient. One of COVID-19's scariest mysteries is why some people are mildly ill or have no symptoms and others rapidly die — and scientists are starting to unravel why.  (HOGP)
FILE - This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., in 2020, shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient. One of COVID-19's scariest mysteries is why some people are mildly ill or have no symptoms and others rapidly die — and scientists are starting to unravel why. (HOGP)

Researchers are working to understand the impact of the pandemic on cancer patients in Washington state, and specifically in the Inland Northwest.

When the pandemic hit in the spring, elective medical care and procedures ceased. Health care providers worried that patients were missing critical cancer screenings and check-ups during that time.

“A lot of things that could have waited did get postponed,” said Dr. David O’Brien, chief executive of MultiCare Inland Northwest. “There was a general worry in the community about seeking medical care and we saw our emergency visits plummet, and I don’t know that the community got a whole lot healthier.”

Some Washington State University researchers are studying how delayed cancer screenings during March and April impacted patient treatment and cancer diagnoses.

“We are interested in looking at people who might have missed their diagnosis and screening,” said Ofer Amram, assistant professor at the College of Medicine at WSU.

His study will also focus on people with traditionally less access to health care , including those who live in rural areas .

Amram and his team will look at patient data and compare it to the previous year, with no COVID-19, to see the differences in who accessed care.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 41% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care due to the pandemic by June 30. These delays reportedly impacted people with underlying health conditions and Black and Hispanic communities, as well as young adults, unpaid caregivers and people with disabilities.

Hospital and emergency room visits also declined early in the pandemic.

Other local research is looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect current cancer patients and their access to care.

MultiCare’s Institute for Research and the Community Cancer Fund have received funding to study how the pandemic impacted cancer care statewide.

“The idea is to collect a set of data points that will give us a picture of what is going on with the people who are dealing with cancer as the pandemic works its way through our communities,” O’Brien said.

The MultiCare researchers are engaging local clinics and community partners to design a survey that can be sent to patients with cancer throughout the state.

“The study will also be a community effort, with all parties relying on the involvement of hospital systems and oncology physician practices across the state, and cancer patients who have been receiving care during the pandemic,” O’Brien said.


Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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