The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the colorectal cancer screening: consequences of the first wave

  • Researchers from IDIBELL and ICO have analyzed the impact of the first COVID19 wave on the Colorectal Cancer Early Detection Program. The results show a 43% reduction in the number of invitations expected during 2020.
NO12 - CCR i COVI_M Garcia - Imatge

The first wave of the COVID19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020 had a great impact on the usual operation of the IDIBELL and ICO Colorectal Cancer Early Detection Program. The program interrupted its activity for five months. To reduce this delay, the cut-off point of the fecal occult blood immunological test was increased.

43% of people who should have been invited to participate in screening during 2020 did not receive the invitation. This delay has affected the entire target population of the program, approximately 500,000 people. In the short term, It has observed a negative impact on the early detection of colorectal cancer.

These are the main results of a study from early cancer detection research group from IDIBELL and ICO, which has been published in the scientific journal Preventive Medicine.


What consequences did the stoppage of the program have?

In the published study, the researchers have analyzed the short-term effects of COVID19 on the program in the northern and southern metropolitan area of ​​Barcelona.

The data shows a decrease of 5.1% in participation and 8.5% in adherence to colonoscopy among the people invited from January to March 2020. However, when the activity of the Program resumed in September the levels of 2019 were recovered.

Short-term negative effects of program interruption have been observed. There has been a decrease in the detection of advanced neoplasia and the detected cases were in more advanced stages compared to the 2019 data.

Núria Vives, the first author of the work, concludes that “to minimize the long-term effects of the suspension of the Program, it is necessary to implement strategies to recover the delay in the invitation to participate and reduce the time of performing the colonoscopy after a positive result in the fecal occult blood test”.

Activity in the endoscopic units could be reactivated at the beginning of May 2020 and they were prioritized based on the risk obtained in the fecal occult blood test. Thus, and to promote participation among all those people who had been left with an unfulfilled screening, a messaging system was implemented via mobile phone (SMS) to remind them of the need to complete the process, a system that lasted up to a month July 2020.



The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.

IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).

Scroll to Top