International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (Nov 2022)

The Challenges of Colorectal Cancer Surgery during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Romania: A Three-Year Retrospective Study

  • Cristi Tarta,
  • Marco Marian,
  • Marco Capitanio,
  • Flaviu Ionut Faur,
  • Ciprian Duta,
  • Razvan Diaconescu,
  • Anca Monica Oprescu-Macovei,
  • Bogdan Totolici,
  • Amadeus Dobrescu

DOI
https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph192114320
Journal volume & issue
Vol. 19, no. 14320
p. 14320

Abstract

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The predictions on the influence of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic on access to medical services in Romania predicted a 35% drop in oncological hospitalizations in 2020 compared to the previous decade, raising the hypothesis that patients with colorectal cancer can become indirect victims of the ongoing pandemic. Therefore, the aim of the current research was to observe how the COVID-19 pandemic influenced colorectal cancer surgery in Romania, to determine the level of addressability towards specialized care, to compare the cancer staging between the pandemic and pre-pandemic periods, and to observe the risk factors for disease progression. This retrospective study was spread over three years, respectively, from March 2019 to March 2022, and included a total of 198 patients with a history of colorectal cancer surgery. It was decided to perform a parallel comparison of 2019, 2020, and 2021 to observe any significant changes during the pandemic. Our clinic encountered a significant decrease in all interventions during the pandemic; although the number of CRC surgeries remained constant, the cases were more difficult, with significantly more patients presenting in emergency situations, from 31.3% in 2019 to 50.0% in 2020 and 57.1% in 2021. Thus, the number of elective surgeries decreased significantly. The proportion of TNM (tumor-node-metastasis) staging was, however, statistically significant between the pre-pandemic and pandemic period. In 2019, 13.3% of patients had stage IIa, compared with 28.8% in 2020 and 13.1% in 2021. Similarly, the proportion of very advanced colorectal cancer was higher during the pandemic period of 2020 and 2021 (12.0% in 2019 vs. 12.5% in 2020 and 25.0% in 2021), which was represented by a significantly higher proportion of patients with bowel perforation. Patients with an advanced TNM stage had a 6.28-fold increased risk of disease progression, followed by lymphovascular invasion (HR = 5.19). However, the COVID-19 pandemic, represented by admission years 2020 and 2021, did not pose a significant risk for disease progression and mortality. In-hospital mortality during the pandemic also did not change significantly. After the pandemic restrictions have been lifted, it would be advisable to conduct a widespread colorectal cancer screening campaign in order to identify any instances of the disease that went undetected during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

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