Research estimates additional 90 cancer deaths and $12m costs in Australia due COVID-19 induced delay

A new model has conservatively estimated that a three-month delay in cancer diagnosis and treatment due to COVID-19 would result in 90 additional deaths and $12 million in additional healthcare costs in Australia over five years.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have developed a flexible simulation model, pre-published in MedRxiv online.

Using Australian data of four of our most prevalent cancers, the model predicts the most significant impact in melanoma, followed by lung cancer, breast and colorectal (bowel) cancer.

A six-month delay in cancer diagnosis and treatment is estimated to result in nearly 350 deaths and cost the Australian healthcare system $46 million.

Professor Maarten IJzerman, Chair of Cancer Health Services Research at the University of Melbourne, said that cancer registry data for each stage of the disease makes it possible to extrapolate population-level survival and healthcare costs.

“This model is based on the principle of stage-shift, which may occur if cancer progresses because of diagnostic and treatment delays.

“Using population-level cancer registry data, the model uses the distribution of cancer stage at diagnosis before COVID-19 and estimates how this stage distribution may change because of a diagnostic and treatment delay,” Dr Koen Degeling, Cancer Health Services Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne, added.

The research team plans to routinely update the simulation model with real-time data on disease stage at diagnosis following the pandemic, to obtain more reliable estimates and inform policy on the damage of service interruptions in cancer management.

Available for interview:
Professor Maarten IJzerman,

Chair of Cancer Health Services Research
University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research (UMCCR) and Melbourne School of Population and Global Health

Note: This research was conducted by a multidisciplinary team in a well-established research program. However, it has not been evaluated by the scientific research community through peer review. We urge journalists to consider this in their reporting. A pre-print of the article is available HERE.