Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on diagnosis, stage, and initial treatment of breast cancer in the Netherlands: a population-based study

Anouk Eijkelboom, Linda de Munck, Marie-Jeanne T.F.D. Vrancken Peeters, Mireille J.M. Broeders, Luc J.A. Strobbe, Monique E. M. M. Bos, Marjanka K. Schmidt, Cristina Guerrero Paez, Marjolein L. Smidt, Maud Bessems, Janneke Verloop, Sabine Linn, Marc B.I. Lobbes, Aafke H. Honkoop, Desirée H.J.G. van den Bongard, Pieter J. Westenend, Jelle Wesseling, C. Willemien Menke-van der Houven van Oordt, Vivianne C.G. Tjan-Heijnen, Sabine Siesling*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Dutch national screening program to a halt and increased the burden on health care services, necessitating the introduction of specific breast cancer treatment recommendations from week 12 of 2020. We aimed to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on the diagnosis, stage and initial treatment of breast cancer.

Methods: Women included in the Netherlands Cancer Registry and diagnosed during four periods in weeks 2–17 of 2020 were compared with reference data from 2018/2019 (averaged). Weekly incidence was calculated by age group and tumor stage. The number of women receiving initial treatment within 3 months of diagnosis was calculated by period, initial treatment, age, and stage. Initial treatment, stratified by tumor behavior (ductal carcinoma in situ [DCIS] or invasive), was analyzed by logistic regression and adjusted for age, socioeconomic status, stage, subtype, and region. Factors influencing time to treatment were analyzed by Cox regression.

Results: Incidence declined across all age groups and tumor stages (except stage IV) from 2018/2019 to 2020, particularly for DCIS and stage I disease (p < 0.05). DCIS was less likely to be treated within 3 months (odds ratio [OR] wks2–8: 2.04, OR wks9–11: 2.18). Invasive tumors were less likely to be treated initially by mastectomy with immediate reconstruction (OR wks12–13: 0.52) or by breast conserving surgery (OR wks14–17: 0.75). Chemotherapy was less likely for tumors diagnosed in the beginning of the study period (OR wks9–11: 0.59, OR wks12–13: 0.66), but more likely for those diagnosed at the end (OR wks14–17: 1.31). Primary hormonal treatment was more common (OR wks2–8: 1.23, OR wks9–11: 1.92, OR wks12–13: 3.01). Only women diagnosed in weeks 2–8 of 2020 experienced treatment delays.

Conclusion: The incidence of breast cancer fell in early 2020, and treatment approaches adapted rapidly. Clarification is needed on how this has affected stage migration and outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number64
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Hematology & Oncology
Issue number1
Early online date17 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Breast cancer
  • COVID-19
  • Incidence
  • Population-based
  • Screening
  • Stage
  • Treatment
  • UT-Gold-D


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