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Demb J, Liu L, Bustamante R, Dominitz JA, Earles A, Shah SC, Gawron AJ, Martinez ME, Gupta S. COVID-19 Pandemic Had Minimal Impact on Colonoscopy Completion After Colorectal Cancer Red Flag Sign or Symptoms in US Veterans. Digestive diseases and sciences. 2022 Sep 28; 1-10.
BACKGROUND: Delays in colonoscopy work-up for red flag signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer (CRC) during the COVID-19 pandemic are not well characterized. AIMS: To examine colonoscopy uptake and time to colonoscopy after red flag diagnosis, before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. METHODS: Cohort study of adults ages 50-75 with iron deficiency anemia (IDA), hematochezia, or abnormal stool blood test receiving Veterans Health Administration (VHA) care from April 2019 to December 2020. Index date was first red flag diagnosis date, categorized into "pre" (April-December 2019) and "intra" (April-December 2020) policy implementation prioritizing diagnostic procedures, allowing for a 3-month "washout" (January-March 2020) period. Outcomes were colonoscopy completion and time to colonoscopy pre- vs. intra-COVID-19, examined using multivariable Cox models with hazard ratios (aHRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). RESULTS: There were 52,539 adults with red flag signs or symptoms (pre-COVID: 25,154; washout: 7527; intra-COVID: 19,858). Proportion completing colonoscopy was similar pre- vs. intra-COVID-19 (27.0% vs. 26.5%; p = 0.24). Median time to colonoscopy among colonoscopy completers was similar for pre- vs. intra-COVID-19 (46 vs. 42 days), but longer for individuals with IDA (60 vs. 49 days). There was no association between time period and colonoscopy completion (aHR: 0.99, 95% CI 0.95-1.03). CONCLUSIONS: Colonoscopy work-up of CRC red flag signs and symptoms was not delayed within VHA during the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly due to VHA policies supporting prioritization and completion. Further work is needed to understand how COVID-19 policies on screening and surveillance impact CRC-related outcomes, and how to optimize colonoscopy completion after a red flag diagnosis.