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Strong decline in new cancer diagnoses in April due to corona crisis in Belgium

Cancer care in Belgium was heavily affected by the corona pandemic and the necessary measures taken by the government. On March 14, 2020, all non-essential consultations, medical tests, and interventions were temporarily halted. Around this same time, population screening for breast, cervical, and colon cancer were likewise stopped.

Thanks to the expedited delivery of data by the laboratories for pathological anatomy, the Belgian Cancer Registry was able to make an initial estimate of the decline in the number of new cancer diagnoses.

Each month in Belgium, there is an average of 5725 new cancer diagnoses expected*. Recent analyses by the Belgian Cancer Registry show that, after an initial rapid decline in the month of March, the number of new cancer diagnoses in the month of April 2020 declined by nearly half (44%) compared to April 2019. For men, this was a decline of 43%, and for women, 45%. By mid-April, the numbers began to increase again, and we hope that this increase has continued.

Age and tumour type

Age and tumour type have a strong and specific effect upon the decline in diagnoses in April 2020. For people aged 65 and older, the risk group for corona, the decline was least prominent for patients aged 65 to 79 years (40%), compared to the strong decline of 51% for patients aged 80 and over. For children and adolescents up to 19 years of age, the decline is limited to 12%, for (young) adults (20-34 years old) the decline is 34%, and for patients between 35 and 64 years of age the decline is 45%.

Depending on the tumour type, the decline varies between 16% and 65%. The largest decrease is seen for both the least dangerous types of skin cancer (65%) as well as the most aggressive type, melanoma (61%). A strong decline is also noted for prostate cancer (52%). Lung cancer declined by 37%. The decline is smallest for pancreatic cancer (16%).

Population Screening

The temporary halt in population screening in mid-March influenced new diagnoses of the three cancer types: breast, cervical, and colon cancer. In April 2020, the number of colon cancer diagnoses declined by 48% for men and 55% for women. Specifically in the screening age group (50-74 years), the decline was 49% for men and 58% for women. Breast cancer showed a decrease of 48% for all ages and 51% in the screening age group (50-69 years of age). The effect was smallest for cervical cancer; in the screening age group (24-64 years of age) and for all ages combined, the decline was 20%.

Decline

The cause of this decline is likely multifactorial. Owing to the corona crisis, people with symptoms may have delayed contacting a general practitioner or specialist, and, as such, fewer patients were referred to hospitals for further diagnostic testing. Additionally, the temporary halt in population screening for breast, cervical, and colon cancer until mid-May (breast cancer in Flanders until June 28), together with delayed diagnostic testing and an adapted approach to care in hospitals, will also have played an important role.

The numbers from April demonstrate that a large proportion of the expected new cancer diagnoses were, at that moment, still not made. The important message remains to seek advice from a doctor if you have persistent symptoms, to avoid a possible negative outcome due to delayed diagnosis and treatment.

An increase in diagnoses began in mid-April, likely as a result of awareness campaigns from the health care sector, patient groups, and the government. This hopeful trend will be followed-up in the coming months. Managing the backlog of delayed diagnoses will undoubtedly result in increased pressure on hospitals.

The Belgian Cancer Registry, together with the involved stakeholders, will track and report the development in new diagnoses, as well as the effect of treatment strategies and outcomes for patients during the coming months and years.

*all cancers with the exception of non-melanoma skin cancer

 

* All cancers except non-melanoma skin cancer, based on data from laboratories for pathological anatomy
Explanation of timeline:
- Population screening halted: temporary halt in population screening for breast, cervical, and colon cancer
- Awareness campaign: Campaign from health care sector, patient groups and government. Call directed to the general public to consult a physician if experiencing symptoms.
- Peak of epidemic in Belgium: Peak in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Belgium.


 

Explanation of timeline:
- Number of new cancer diagnoses based on data from laboratories for pathological anatomy
- Population screening halted: temporary halt in population screening for breast, cervical, and colon cancer
- Awareness campaign: Campaign from health care sector, patient groups and government. Call directed to the general public to consult a physician if experiencing symptoms.
- Peak of epidemic in Belgium: Peak in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Belgium.

* All cancers except non-melanoma skin cancer, based on data from laboratories for pathological anatomy

Number of new cancer diagnoses based on data from laboratories for pathological anatomy

 

Contact: Katia Emmerechts 0477 273 163

Download the press release in PDF format
 

Reports 

 

We proudly present our latest publication: Cancer Burden in Belgium 2004 - 2017:

 

              

 

The Belgian Cancer Registry regularly publishes the results of its activities. You can find them in the 'Cancer Incidence in Belgium' reports. You can download the different volumes on the corresponding page.

 

  • "Cancer in Children and Adolescents, Belgium 2004-2016, Belgian Cancer Registry, Brussels, 2019"

 Download the publication in PDF format.

 

  • "Cancer in an Ageing Population in Belgium 20042016, Belgian Cancer Registry, Brussels, 2018"

 Download the publication in PDF format.

 

  • "Cancer Incidence Projections in Belgium, 2015 to 2025, Belgian Cancer Registry, Brussels 2017"

Download the publication in PDF format.

 

  • "Cancer burden in Belgium 2004-2013, Belgian Cancer Registry, Brussels 2015"

Download the publication and the press release in PDF format.

 

  • "Haematological malignancies in Belgium, Belgian Cancer Registry, Brussels 2015"

Download the publication in PDF format.

 

  • "Cancer Prevalence in Belgium 2010, Belgian Cancer Registry,  Brussels 2014"

Download the publication and the press release in PDF format.

 

  • "Cancer in Children and Adolescents, Belgian Cancer Registry, Brussels, 2013"

Download the publication in PDF format.

 

  • "Cancer Survival in Belgium, Belgian Cancer Registry, Brussels 2012"

Download the publication and the press release in PDF format.

 

  • "Cancer Incidence in Belgium, 2008, Belgian Cancer Registry, Brussels 2011"

Download the publication and the appendix in PDF format.

 

  • "Cancer Incidence in Belgium, 2004-2005, Belgian Cancer Registry, Brussels 2008"

Download the publication and the appendix in PDF format.

 

  • "E. Van Eycken, N. De Wever, Cancer Incidence and Survival in Flanders, 2000-2001.  Flemish Cancer Registry Network, VLK, Brussels, 2006"

Download the publication in PDF format.

 

  • Cancer Incidence 1997-1999

Download the publication in PDF format.

 

  • ICDO3

Download the publication and the appendix in PDF format.

 

  • Manual for Clinical Cancer Registration

Download the publication in PDF format.     

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Academic Session

Below, you can find the presentations from the Academic Session of December 3rd, 2018:

  • Trends in Cancer Incidence: Highlights; Frédéric Calay & Michael Rosskamp
  • Cancer in an Ageing Population: Dr. Lien van Walle
  • Perspectives for the Future: Dr. Liesbet Van Eycken

     

    Newsletters  

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