Impact of COVID-19 and suspension of colorectal cancer screening on incidence and stage distribution of colorectal cancers in the Netherlands

Eur J Cancer. 2022 Jan;161:38-43. doi: 10.1016/j.ejca.2021.11.008. Epub 2021 Nov 24.


Many countries had to suspend their colorectal cancer (CRC) screening programme as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This eventually may lead to postponed diagnoses of premalignant lesions and CRC, resulting in increased incidence or more advanced CRCs rates. This study aimed to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on incidence and stage distribution of CRCs in the Netherlands, by monitoring CRC diagnoses and stage distribution in the months before, during and after the first COVID-19 wave. Data on incidence and stage distribution of CRCs of individuals aged 55-75 years in 25 hospitals in the Netherlands were extracted from the Netherlands Cancer Registry. The observed incidence after the suspension (March 2020-December 2020) was compared to the expected incidence in the same period. In the period April to June 2020, we observed the largest decrease in the total incidence of CRC. We found that 48% of the decrease was due to stage I, 23% due to stage II, 23% due to stage III and 5% due to stage IV. After gradually resuming screening mid May 2020, we observed an increase in CRC diagnoses from July 2020 onwards. As of October 2020, the observed number of diagnoses was higher than the expected number. As the decrease was mainly limited to stage I CRCs, it seems that the temporary suspension of the CRC screening programme due to the COVID-19 pandemic will have a minimal long-term impact on stage distribution and CRC mortality.

Keywords: Colorectal cancer screening; Covid-19; Incidence; Stage distribution; Suspension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Netherlands
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2