Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on breast cancer patient pathways and outcomes in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland – a scoping review

Lynne Lohfeld*, Meenakshi Sharma, Damien Bennett, Anna Gavin, Sinéad T. Hawkins, Gareth Irwin, Helen Mitchell, Siobhan O'Neill, Charlene M. McShane

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic brought unplanned service disruption for breast cancer diagnostic, treatment and support services. This scoping review describes these changes and their impact in the UK and the Republic of Ireland based on studies published between January 2020 and August 2023. Thirty-four of 569 papers were included. Data were extracted and results thematically organized. Findings include fewer new cases; stage shift (fewer early- and more late-stage disease); and changes to healthcare organization, breast screening and treatment. Examples are accepting fewer referrals, applying stricter referral criteria and relying more on virtual consultations and multi-disciplinary meetings. Screening service programs paused during the pandemic before enacting risk-based phased restarts with longer appointment times to accommodate reduced staffing numbers and enhanced infection-control regimes. Treatments shifted from predominantly conventional to hypofractionated radiotherapy, fewer surgical procedures and increased use of bridging endocrine therapy. The long-term impact of such changes are unknown so definitive guidelines for future emergencies are not yet available. Cancer registries, with their large sample sizes and population coverage, are well placed to monitor changes to stage and survival despite difficulties obtaining definitive staging during diagnosis because surgery and pathological assessments are delayed. Multisite longitudinal studies can also provide guidance for future disaster preparedness.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalBritish Journal of Cancer
Early online date04 May 2024
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online date - 04 May 2024

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