Ban on “elective” procedures could increase mortality among cancer patients

During the beginning of the year, states halted what they deemed “elective” and “non-emergency” medical procedures. This was in an effort to preserve resources in preparation for a surge of Covid-19 cases. However, what has followed has been disastrous.

Generally, there has been an uptick in deaths attributed to other illnesses. As I have written before,

According to Federal data, there has been an increase in the number of deaths attributed to other illnesses like diabetes and Alzheimer’s. The number of deaths for these illnesses has been higher than normal. This is a combination of a couple of factors. Among other things, people were scared to seek medical help and hospitals had shut down other services and were prioritizing Covid-19 treatment.

Cancer patients have been heavily affected

In Minnesota, the state halted elective services beginning March 23 and lifted the ban on May 11. When the state banned “elective” medical procedures back in March in Minnesota, cancer patients were among the most affected. As the Star Tribune reported

For cancer patients in Minnesota, COVID-19 has altered treatments, paused clinical trials and limited connections with friends and family in the midst of a dreaded diagnosis. Thousands of mammograms and colon­oscopies were delayed in March and April as hospitals and clinics marshaled resources to fight COVID-19.

But medical practitioners worry that patients are still delaying care even after the lift of the ban. This could be detrimental.

Now, as the health care system slowly returns to pre-COVID norms, doctors are uneasy because patients seem to be steering clear of care, despite reassurances about the safety of health care facilities. One possible consequence is that cancers will be caught later, when treatment options are more difficult.


New patient consults and newly diagnosed cancer patients are down more than 20% compared with the same period a year ago, say doctors with Minnesota Oncology, a group of 55 cancer specialists with 12 offices across the Twin Cities. They’ve begun seeing more late-stage cancers relative to prior rates, as well

According to American practitioners, delays with cancer screenings as well as treatments could increase mortality among cancer patients. Under some projections, excess mortality could very well exceed 10,000 over the next decade for the country.

Once again, as it is with everything in public policy, there are no perfect solutions, only tradeoffs.