Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Breast Cancer Stage at Diagnosis, Presentation, and Patient Management

Ann Surg Oncol. 2022 Apr;29(4):2231-2239. doi: 10.1245/s10434-021-11088-6. Epub 2021 Nov 23.


Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in breast cancer management forcing clinicians to potentially alter treatment recommendations. This study compared breast cancer stage at diagnosis and rates of neoadjuvant therapy among women presenting to our institution before and during COVID-19.

Methods: Retrospective chart review of patients with a new breast cancer diagnosis from March 2020-August 2020 (during-COVID-19) were compared with March 2019-August 2019 (pre-COVID-19). We compared stage at diagnosis, clinical/demographic features, and neoadjuvant therapy use between the time periods.

Results: A total of 573 patients included: 376 pre-COVID-19, 197 during-COVID-19. Method of cancer detection was by imaging in 66% versus 63% and by physical findings/symptoms in 34% versus 37% of patients comparing pre-COVID-19 to during-COVID-19, p = 0.47. Overall clinical prognostic stage did not differ significantly (p = 0.39) between the time periods, nor did cM1 disease (2% in each period); 23% pre-COVID-19 and 27% during-COVID-19 presented with cN+ disease (p = 0.38). Neoadjuvant therapy use was significantly higher during-COVID-19 (39%) versus pre-COVID-19 (29%, p = 0.02) driven by increased neoadjuvant endocrine therapy (NET) use (7% to 16%, p = 0.002), whereas neoadjuvant chemotherapy use did not change (22% vs. 23%, p = 0.72). In HR+/HER2- disease, NET use increased from 10% pre-COVID-19 to 23% during-COVID-19 (p = 0.001) with a significant increase in stage I patients (7 to 22%, p < 0.001) and nonsignificant increases in stage II (18 to 23%, p = 0.63) and stage III (9 to 29%, p = 0.29).

Conclusions: Breast cancer stage at diagnosis did not differ significantly during-COVID-19 compared with pre-COVID-19. More patients during-COVID-19 were treated with NET, which was significantly increased in stage I HR+/HER2- disease.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms* / therapy
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy
  • Pandemics
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Receptor, ErbB-2