The weekly number of breast cancer diagnoses are estimated to have fallen more than 50% during the pandemic. Image from the National Cancer Institute.

Lessons from COVID-19: Addressing global cancer disparities

11 December 2020
Gissoo DeCotiis

Gissoo DeCotiis

Head of Global Oncology Advocacy and Professional Relations at Daiichi Sankyo

COVID-19 has impacted every facet of daily life for people around the globe. Here in the US, it has put incredible stress on both our healthcare system and the patients relying on it for care. In an effort to prioritise resources and help control the spread of COVID-19, normal tenets of preventative care, like cancer screenings, have been delayed or happened less often.[1]  Without those screenings, we’re seeing a decline in cancer diagnoses, with perhaps the greatest impact occurring in breast cancer – one study found that the weekly number of breast cancer diagnoses fell more than 50% during the pandemic.[2]

The downstream impact of this is hard to imagine. It’s well known that delayed diagnosis can impact outcomes for those with breast and other cancers, and some studies are suggesting upwards of 33,000 excess cancer deaths may be one of the many tolls this pandemic takes on the US.[3,4]

What’s even more tragic to me, as a member of the global breast cancer advocacy community, is that these staggering numbers are but a fraction of the overall impact of breast cancer on patients internationally. As a result of the pandemic, the US and many other developed countries are now experiencing what has been a mounting problem in less developed parts of the world, where delayed diagnoses and barriers to care were commonplace and pervasive long before COVID-19. In fact, approximately 60% of global breast cancer deaths occur in developing countries, where there are limited resources for promoting early detection and diagnosis, and most people don’t even have access to radiotherapy – one of the essential tools to treat cancer.[5,6]
In developed nations, the response to the decline in cancer screenings and diagnosis delays has been strong and swift. Elsewhere, the disparities in breast cancer care and outcomes require a collective effort to address. The UICC Breast Cancer Programme is an excellent example of uniting the collective passion and resources of many to reduce the inequities in cancer care that are prevalent across our global community. The Programme mainly supports developing countries by giving a voice to breast cancer patients; strengthening advocacy and health leader relationships in local, regional and national markets; and continuously advocating for increased patient education, resources and access to care.

This is in lockstep with our mission at Daiichi Sankyo to address unmet medical needs and reduce patient suffering.  It is one of the many reasons we were excited to support the UICC’s Breast Cancer Programme, as it provides a unique opportunity to work collaboratively with others across the globe that share our commitment to improving cancer care. From supporting collaboration around policies to prevent and control cancer, to accelerating learning and encouraging global discussion, the UICC Breast Cancer Programme is a needed catalyst for continued progress in the fight against breast cancer for ALL patients, especially those who lack a voice or an avenue to access the care they need.

As we continue to pull together to make things better now, we must also continue to focus on the future. The disparities in health literacy and cancer care that persist globally may continue to rise as we pick up the pieces from the COVID-19 pandemic. We must continue to hold steadfast in our collaborative efforts as a global cancer community and use what we’ve learned in the last year to continue to make progress a reality for patients everywhere. 


[1] "Cancer Screening During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Cancer Tests and Coronavirus" (2020, July 2). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from
[2] Kaufman HW, Chen Z, Niles J, Fesko Y. "Changes in the Number of US Patients With Newly Identified Cancer Before and During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic", JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(8):e2017267. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.17267
[3] Ho PJ, Cook AR, Binte Mohamed Ri NK, Liu J, Li J, Hartman M. "Impact of delayed treatment in women diagnosed with breast cancer: A population‐based study", Cancer Med. 2020;9:2435–2444. 10.1002/cam4.2830.
[4] Lai  A, Pasea  L, Banerjee  A,  et al . "Estimating excess mortality in people with cancer and multimorbidity in the COVID-19 emergency", medRxiv. Preprint posted online June 1, 2020. doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.34254.82242
[5] Torre LA, Bray F, Siegel RL, Ferlay J, Lortet-Tieulent J, Jemal A. "Global cancer statistics, 2012", CA Cancer J Clin. 2015;65((2)):87–108. doi: 10.3322/caac.21262
[6] Zubizarreta EH, Fidarova E, Healy B, Rosenblatt E. "Need for radiotherapy in low and middle income countries – the silent crisis continues", 2015. Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol) 27: 107.


Ms Gissoo DeCotiis has over 25 years of diverse healthcare industry experience with an intense focus on oncology. Currently, she is the Head of Global Advocacy for Daiichi Sankyo where she focuses on building strong relationships with patient advocates around the world while creating broad awareness of the disease areas of interest with decision-makers and the public. For Daiichi Sankyo, it is crucial to understand the real needs of the patients and to learn from their experiences in order to help build more relevant studies that will help patients live a longer and healthier journey.

Last update: 
Tuesday 8 June 2021