Surgeries decreased at most cancer care hospitals nationwide

About 80% of state-designated cancer hospitals nationwide saw a decrease in their number of cancer surgeries in 2020 compared to the previous year, due mainly to the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to a survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The survey also showed that 20% of such hospitals saw a decrease of more than 10% in the number of cancer surgeries they performed.

The significant decrease came as hospitals placed limits on medical treatment, and patients refrained from visiting their doctors for fear of infection with the virus.

The survey was conducted in April and May in the form of a questionnaire sent to a total of 447 facilities nationwide, including state-designated cancer care hospitals, and asked about cancer treatment in 2019 and 2020.

A total of 219 medical facilities answered about the treatment and surgeries for the two years. Some responded with the number for 2018 instead of 2019.

Of them, 170 hospitals, or 78%, decreased their number of cancer surgeries and endoscopic treatments in 2020 compared to 2019, or from 2018, according to the survey.

Forty-five hospitals, or 21%, said the number declined by more than 10%, while 62 hospitals, or 28%, saw a decrease between 5% and 10%.

There were several hospitals where the number of surgeries decreased by 30% or more. According the reply from a hospital where the number of surgeries declined by nearly 300, “It is believed that the decline was due to closures of hospital wards and a decrease in general hospital beds as a result of accepting COVID-19 patients.”

Many other hospitals cited such reasons as that they had to limit some general medical services to accept patients infected with the novel coronavirus. One of the hospitals also said, “There were many cases of patients refraining from visiting the hospital for fear of infection.”

About 40% of the hospitals that responded to the survey said they had limited surgeries and cancer screenings. Of the hospitals, nearly 10% said they were still limiting them as of the time of the survey.

The Cancer Institute Hospital in Tokyo, which conducted about 6,600 surgeries, the highest number for 2020, said, “The number of people undergoing examinations has greatly decreased, and the number of cases in which cancer is found in an advanced state has increased.”

“The decline in the number of cancer surgeries seems to have been the greatest in the spring of last year, when the first state of emergency was declared,” said Yuichiro Doki, president of Osaka University Hospital, who also serves as chairman of the Japan Society of Clinical Oncology. “With the prolonged coronavirus outbreak, infection control measures are essential, but the postponement of cancer treatment is life-threatening. I would like you to make sure you receive medical attention.”

Cancer care hospitals are designated by the government based on the number of cancer treatments provided and certain requirements that a hospital providing specialized cancer care should meet. The hospitals play a central role in regional cooperation and patient counseling.