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Delay in lung cancer detection due to Covid-19

An audit carried out in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, has confirmed that the detection of lung cancer has been significantly delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The audit examined the number of referrals, the number of diagnoses, and the stage of lung cancer diagnoses during the sixmonth period of January to June in 2018, 2019, and 2020 in the rapid access lung cancer clinic in Beaumont Hospital. Lockdown was enforced nationally at the end of March 2020, affecting cancer services across the country.

As a result, the first three months of 2020 saw little difference in lung cancer referrals and diagnoses. Despite this, there was a 20 per cent reduction in outpatient lung cancer referrals in 2020 across the six-month period compared to 2018 and 2019.

In 2018 and 2019 an average of 10 lung malignancies were detected per month. This dropped to one, five, and six cases in April, May, and June 2020 respectively. This time period coincides with the first peak of Covid-19 cases in Ireland. The number of inpatient lung cancer diagnoses increased during the Covid-19 pandemic compared to previous years, which suggested cases were not being diagnosed earlier through outpatient referrals.

Some 30 individuals were diagnosed with lung cancer as inpatients in 2020 compared to 12 in 2019, and seven in 2018. In relation to outpatients, 70 per cent of the 2020 diagnoses made in April, May, and June were a stage four malignancy, compared to 42 per cent in 2018 and 25 per cent in 2019. These findings were recently presented at the Irish Thoracic Society Annual Scientific Meeting 2020.

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