Event Report: Symposium on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer outcomes

Watch seven eLife authors showcase their research from our recent Special Issue.

Our recent online symposium, hosted by eLife Deputy Editor, Diane Harper, and eLife Senior Editor, Eduardo Franco, featured four authors presenting key findings from their research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer outcomes. Watch their presentations along with two additional presentations not seen during the live event. All research presented is showcased in our recent Special Issue on this topic.

The COVID-19 pandemic had an adverse impact on multiple public health fronts. Proper cancer prevention, control, care and post-cancer survivorship rely on the critical importance of maintaining preventive programs, screening, early diagnosis, treatment and monitoring for recurrence. These interventions were affected by interruptions and delays caused by the pandemic.


Diane Harper
University of Michigan, United States
eLife Deputy Editor

Eduardo Franco
McGill University, Canada
eLife Senior Editor


Irene Man
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC/WHO)

Building resilient cervical cancer prevention through gender-neutral HPV vaccination: a modelling study
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted HPV vaccination programmes worldwide. Using India as a study case, we investigate through model-based projections how shifting from a girls-only (GO) to a gender-neutral (GN) vaccination strategy could improve the resilience of cervical cancer prevention against disruption of HPV vaccination, as well as accelerate the progress towards cervical cancer elimination.

Read Irene’s research article.

Tina Bech Olesen
The Danish Clinical Quality Program – National Clinical Registries (RKKP)

Nation-wide participation in cancer screening in Denmark during the COVID-19 pandemic
Denmark was one of the few countries worldwide to keep the cancer screening programmes open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We examined the participation in cervical, breast and colorectal cancer screening during the pandemic compared with the previous years.

We included all individuals invited to participate in cancer screening from 2015 to 2021 as registered in the Cervical Cancer Screening Database, the Danish Quality Database for Mammography Screening and the Danish Colorectal Cancer Screening Database combined with population-wide registries. Using a generalised linear model, we estimated prevalence ratios and 95% confidence intervals of cancer screening participation within 90, 180 and 365 days since invitation during the pandemic compared with the previous years overall and by socio-economic groups.

A decrease in participation in all three screening programmes was observed at the start of the pandemic; however, with longer follow-up time most individuals resumed screening. Nonetheless, the participation diverged by socio-economic groups.

Read Tina’s first research article, second research article and third research article.

Mariam El-Zein
Division of Cancer Epidemiology, McGill University

Highlights from the pan-Canadian survey among healthcare professionals on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cervical cancer screening and management
The presentation will 1) describe the survey development process, 2) summarise healthcare professionals' assessment of the impact of the pandemic on cervical cancer screening and follow-up, and 3) discuss the implications on screening and management processes.

Read Mariam’s research article.

Taulant Muka
Epistudia, Bern, Switzerland

Navigating the COVID-19 Crisis: The effects on Cancer Prevention, Management, and Patient Care
The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a reconfiguration of healthcare resources, potentially disrupting cancer care. To assess this impact, we conducted an umbrella review summarising findings from systematic reviews up to November 29, 2022. Fifty-one reviews were analysed, primarily based on observational studies with varying biases. While treatment modifications during the pandemic were evident, evidence quality was generally low. Delays and cancellations in cancer treatment, screening and diagnosis were observed, particularly in low- and middle-income countries and those under lockdown. Telemedicine saw increased use, yet its utility, implementation challenges, and cost-effectiveness in cancer care were underexplored. Psychosocial well-being deteriorated among cancer patients, accompanied by financial distress. However, comparisons to pre-pandemic levels were limited. The impact of disrupted cancer care on prognosis was underexamined. Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic exerted a significant but diverse effect on cancer care, warranting further investigation and strategic response.

Read Taulant’s research article.

Louiza S. Velentzis and Carolyn Nickson
University of Sydney

Impact of COVID-19 disruption to Australia’s national breast, bowel cancer and cervical screening programs
The presentation outlines a modelled evaluation of the impact of COVID-19 induced disruptions to Australia’s national breast, bowel and cervical cancer screening programs, on cancer outcomes and services. This was a rapid response evaluation commissioned by the Australian Government, Department of Health based on information available early in the pandemic with a view to provide evidence that could help guide decision-making for the screening programs. We used the Policy1 modelling platforms to predict outcomes, including missed screens, clinical outcomes and diagnostic service impacts, for potential disruptions to screening participation covering periods of 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. The presentation covers the scenarios modelled for each screening program and the predicted outcomes.

Read Louiza and Carolyn’s research article.

Victoria P. Mak
Population Sciences in the Pacific Program (Cancer Epidemiology), University of Hawaii Cancer Center

The impact of COVID-19 on cancer screening and treatment in older adults: The Multiethnic Cohort Study
The purpose of this study was to investigate how COVID-19 impacted access to cancer screening and treatment in a racially- and ethnically-diverse population, by studying the participants of the Multiethnic Cohort (MEC) Study. The MEC allows us to make comparisons between men and women and among five main racial and ethnic groups in Hawaii and California: African American, Japanese American, Latino, Native Hawaiian, and White. Findings revealed unique associations between sex, race, ethnicity, age, education, and comorbidities and the likelihood of changing lifestyle, health-related behaviors, and cancer screening uptake during a pandemic.

Read Victoria’s research article.