Impact of COVID-19 on Breast Cancer Management in a Multiethnic Middle-Income Asian Country Setting

Eur J Breast Health. 2023 Apr 1;19(2):177-183. doi: 10.4274/ejbh.galenos.2023.2022-12-6. eCollection 2023 Apr.


Objective: Coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) has caused hospitals to suspend routine procedures. As the world recovers, there is concern that the outcome of many diseases has been impaired. This study aimed to assess the impact of the pandemic on breast cancer demography, clinicopathological characteristics and patient management at a teaching hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Materials and methods: Pre-COVID data were collected between January 1, 2019, to March 18, 2020, when a national lockdown was implemented, which caused the suspension of services at the breast clinic of University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC). COVID data was obtained from March 2020 until June 2021.

Results: This study compared 374 breast cancer patients in the COVID-19 period with 382 patients in the pre-COVID period. There was no significant difference in the median (range) time to surgery between pre-COVID [45 (26.50-153.50) days] and COVID [44 (24.75-156.25) days] periods. The clinicopathological features of breast cancer showed reduction in in situ carcinoma and increase in Stage 4 diagnoses during the COVID period. There was a reduction in screening-detected carcinoma (9% vs. 12.3%), mastectomy followed by immediate reconstruction (5.6% vs. 14.5%) and adjuvant chemotherapy (25.8% vs. 32.9%) in the COVID period.

Conclusion: In this center COVID-19 caused operational changes in breast cancer management, including a reduction in reconstructive procedures and adjuvant treatment. Healthcare disruption and fear of COVID may have caused delayed diagnosis, resulting in a higher frequency of Stage 4 disease and lower proportion of in situ carcinoma during the pandemic. However, there was no delay in the time to surgery, reduction in surgical volume, or change in surgery types.

Keywords: Breast neoplasm; pandemic; patient; therapeutic.