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Blood helps tally the cost of delayed cancer screening

October 25, 2021

Doctor talking to patient

When hospitals first filled with COVID-19 patients in 2020 and much of the world began locking down, many patients postponed cancer screenings, causing health care leaders to worry. Some of the first evidence on the impact of those delayed screenings is trickling in, notably new colon cancer research out of France.

Researchers discovered that 40 patients diagnosed with metastatic cancer after the COVID-19 lockdown in France had on average nearly seven times the cancer burden of 40 patients diagnosed prior to the 55-day lockdown in 2020.

Although the sample is small, the finding suggests there has been a cost in waiting for the lockdown to relent. For people with a higher cancer burden, their median survival decreased from 20 months to just under 15 months, according to a report on this research in STAT.

The findings emerged from the analysis of circulating DNA in blood samples taken for a targeted therapy trial. “The use of a clinically validated blood test enabled us to present the first quantitative assessment of tumor burden related to a specific cancer during pre- and post-lockdown periods,” Alain Thierry, director of research at INSERM and Institut de Recherche en Cancérologie de Montpellier, told STAT. “These numbers highlight the lockdown’s human cost, since our data suggested median survival decreased by half.”

Blood samples tell the story

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, echoes a June 2020 warning from National Cancer Institute Director Norman Sharpless, whose organization predicted there will be 10,000 excess U.S. colon and breast cancer deaths in the next decade as a result of delayed cancer diagnosis and treatment. That estimate was predicated on a six-month lockdown, not the waves that we have seen. Moreover, breast and colon cancer together account for only about one-sixth of all cancer deaths.

The bottom line is that the pandemic, having claimed the lives of 1 in 500 Americans, is having secondary health effects. Not surprisingly, it is blood and liquid biopsy technology that is delivering the evidence for these effects. Blood, relatively easy to procure from a patient and rich in biological information, is among the most important biofluids that researchers use.

At iSpecimen, liquid biopsy – cancer detection from biofluids instead of invasive procedures – is a priority for us, and we deliver [n samples per time period, link to news release] to researchers working on the technology. And of course, we supply COVID-19 samples to researchers working to combat that disease.

We hope to see progress soon on both cancer screening and the pandemic, and will do everything to we can to support it.

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products and COVID-19 samples. You can join for free.