TUESDAY, April 11, 2023 (HealthDay News) — In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, death rates with cancer as the underlying cause continued to decrease, while death rates with cancer as a contributing cause increased, according to a study published online April 11 in JCO: Oncology Practice.

Jingxuan Zhao, M.P.H., from the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, and colleagues examined changes in patterns of cancer-related deaths during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Age-standardized cancer-related annual and monthly mortality rates were compared for January to December 2020 and January to December 2015 to 2019.

The researchers found that compared with 2019, the death rate with cancer as the underlying cause was lower in 2020 (144.1 versus 146.2 per 100,000 person-years), continuing the trend seen from 2015 to 2019. However, compared with 2019, the death rate with cancer as a contributing cause was higher in 2020 (164.1 versus 162.0), reversing the previously declining trend seen from 2015 to 2019. Overall, 19,703 more deaths with cancer as a contributing cause were projected compared with expected based on historical trends. The monthly death rates with cancer as a contributing cause increased in April 2020 (rate ratio, 1.03), decreased in May and June 2020, and then increased again each month from July through December 2020, mirroring pandemic peaks, with the highest rate ratio seen in December (1.07).

“We need to continue monitoring the long-term cancer-related mortality trends and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected cancer diagnosis and receipt of care,” Zhao said in a statement.

Several authors disclosed financial ties to AstraZeneca; one author disclosed ties to Flatiron Health.

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