Predicted long-term impact of COVID-19 pandemic-related care delays on cancer mortality in Canada

Int J Cancer. 2022 Apr 15;150(8):1244-1254. doi: 10.1002/ijc.33884. Epub 2021 Dec 3.


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected cancer care worldwide. This study aimed to estimate the long-term impacts of cancer care disruptions on cancer mortality in Canada using a microsimulation model. The model simulates cancer incidence and survival using cancer incidence, stage at diagnosis and survival data from the Canadian Cancer Registry. We modeled reported declines in cancer diagnoses and treatments recorded in provincial administrative datasets in March 2020 to June 2021. Based on the literature, we assumed that diagnostic and treatment delays lead to a 6% higher rate of cancer death per 4-week delay. After June 2021, we assessed scenarios where cancer treatment capacity returned to prepandemic levels, or to 10% higher or lower than prepandemic levels. Results are the median predictions of 10 stochastic simulations. The model predicts that cancer care disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to 21 247 (2.0%) more cancer deaths in Canada in 2020 to 2030, assuming treatment capacity is recovered to 2019 prepandemic levels in 2021. This represents 355 172 life years lost expected due to pandemic-related diagnostic and treatment delays. The largest number of expected excess cancer deaths was predicted for breast, lung and colorectal cancers, and in the provinces of Ontario, Québec and British Columbia. Diagnostic and treatment capacity in 2021 onward highly influenced the number of cancer deaths over the next decade. Cancer care disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to significant life loss; however, most of these could be mitigated by increasing diagnostic and treatment capacity in the short-term to address the service backlog.

Keywords: COVID-19; cancer mortality; decision model; time to diagnosis; time to treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Survival Analysis
  • Time-to-Treatment