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A Ticking Time Bomb: Pandemic Causes Drop in Cancer Screening

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a dramatic drop off nationwide in cancer screening tests. This recent article from the Wall Street Journal provides truly disturbing information.

The implications of this drop off could be highly significant, especially if this trend does not quickly reverse. Cancers will be diagnosed later when the treatment options are more limited and/or adverse. Mortality is likely to rise.

This is a real problem. In our medical malpractice work we frequently see cases where the recommended screening tests have not been done. We handle Federal Tort Claims cases nationwide and this has been a particularly significant problem with the VA. We have had many cases involving patients who died because they did not get the needed screening test. These were preventable deaths. The patients likely could have been cured.

In most parts of the country, it’s hard to see why this deficiency in screening has persisted. In most places - the New York area being the primary exception - healthcare facilities have been largely underutilized throughout the pandemic. There appears to be no good medical reason why things like mammograms and colonoscopies cannot be performed safely. Taking a macro perspective, if we can open restaurants – even at limited capacity – it makes no sense that we are limiting life-saving medical tests. Obviously, people have been “scared off” and to some degree this is totally understandable, but it is also an example of where real risks are grossly misperceived. Healthcare providers have a duty to guide their patients appropriately, but I suspect that this is not always happening as it should.

Of course, there will be questions as to who is at “fault.” From a legal standpoint, one can already see sticky legal issues arising, especially in those places that have enacted immunity statutes of one sort or another. Sorting all this out will require careful analysis, but I fear that some patients are likely to be left without a remedy.


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