Collateral damage: the impact on outcomes from cancer surgery of the COVID-19 pandemic

More about Open Access at the Crick


BACKGROUND: Cancer diagnostics and surgery have been disrupted by the response of healthcare services to the COVID-19 pandemic. Progression of cancers during delay will impact on patient long-term survival. METHODS: We generated per-day hazard ratios of cancer progression from observational studies and applied these to age-specific, stage-specific cancer survival for England 2013-2017. We modelled per-patient delay of three months and six months and periods of disruption of one year and two years. Using healthcare resource costing, we contextualise attributable lives saved and life-years gained from cancer surgery to equivalent volumes of COVID-19 hospitalisations. FINDINGS: Per year, 94,912 resections for major cancers result in 80,406 long-term survivors and 1,717,051 life years gained. Per-patient delay of three/six months would cause attributable death of 4,755/10,760 of these individuals with loss of 92,214/208,275 life-years. For cancer surgery, average life-years gained (LYGs) per patient are 18.1 under standard conditions and 17.1/15.9 with a delay of three/six months (an average loss of 0.97/2.19 LYG per patient). Taking into account units of healthcare resource (HCRU), surgery results on average per patient in 2.25 resource-adjusted life-years gained (RALYGs) under standard conditions and 2.12/1.97 RALYGs following delay of three/six months. For 94,912 hospital COVID-19 admissions, there are 482,022 LYGs requiring of 1,052,949 HCRUs. Hospitalisation of community-acquired COVID-19 patients yields on average per patient 5.08 LYG and 0.46 RALYGs. INTERPRETATION: Modest delays in surgery for cancer incur significant impact on survival. Delay of three/six months in surgery for incident cancers would mitigate 19%/43% of life-years gained by hospitalisation of an equivalent volume of admissions for community-acquired COVID-19. This rises to 26%/59% when considering resource-adjusted life-years gained. To avoid a downstream public health crisis of avoidable cancer deaths, cancer diagnostic and surgical pathways must be maintained at normal throughput, with rapid attention to any backlog already accrued.

Journal details

Volume 31
Issue number 8
Pages 1065-1074
Available online
Publication date