Rise in missed and cancelled appointments leading to undiagnosed colorectal cancer: HHS

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) says an increase in missed and cancelled appointments for colorectal cancer screening over the last year during the pandemic has led to “a large number of undiagnosed, and therefore untreated” cancer cases in the city.

HHS states there were 114 missed endoscopy appointments for a positive colorectal cancer screening test result (called the Fecal Immunochemical Test or FIT), and more than 2,000 cancelled ambulatory appointments between April 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021.

Dr. Barry Lumb, physician in chief for HHS, said the numbers are “very concerning, especially considering early diagnosis can vastly improve the chance of cure.”

“There was approximately a 40 per cent reduction in diagnosed colorectal cancers this year compared to last, and this is not due to a decrease in the community,” he said. 

“As a result of increases in missed and cancelled appointments, there are a great deal of undiagnosed individuals in our region who may be delaying their care.”

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Cancer specialists are bracing for a wave of patients suffering from more advanced disease due to delays in both screening and diagnostic testing during the pandemic. 2:53

HHS states people aren’t coming in because they’re afraid of contracting COVID-19 in the hospital.

“These fears should not exist – hospitals are safe with precautions in place including screening at entrances, masking requirements, physical distancing, and enhanced cleaning,” read a news release from the hospital network.

But this also comes as HHS has managed multiple outbreaks during the pandemic. Hamilton General Hospital’s Unit 5 West is an active outbreak site with 13 confirmed cases. One person linked to the outbreak died.

Colorectal cancer 2nd most common cancer diagnosis

Still, Lumb said colorectal cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer. The symptoms can show up in the form of abdominal pain, changes to one’s stool (bloody stool, diarrhea or constipation), unexplained weight loss or anemia.

HHS states people should start screening for colon cancer when they turn 50 and say newly available FIT tests can be arranged for those with no history of colon cancer in their family.

The FIT test is a provincial program and HHS states it is a pandemic-friendly, stay-at-home test.

“When patients screen for colorectal cancer by FIT screening for average risk and colonoscopy for increased risk, it improves their chances of catching it early, and nine out of 10 people can be cured,” states the HHS news release. 

“If you have colorectal cancer and do not get screened, you may miss the chance for early and more effective treatment plans.”

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