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Horowitz: How disproportionate coronavirus panic will create excess cancer deaths for years to come



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Last week, I presented an analysis showing that not only does SARS-CoV-2 replace the flu while it is circulating, its casualty targets draw heavily from the pool of past and future flu and pneumonia fatality victims. This has the long-term effect of flattening out the curve of excess deaths over time to a point that the imprint of this virus will be barely noticeable in many states. However, our panicked response to the virus will likely produce excess deaths for years to come that will grow over time because the years of life lost are much greater.

There are dashboards in nearly every country to monitor and tabulate every death caused (or allegedly caused) by the virus, even though there is no evidence at this point that any human intervention could have prevented those deaths. But there are no dashboards for people like 31-year-old Kelly Smith, a U.K. cancer patient who had her chemotherapy paused for three months beginning in March. Unfortunately, she didn't last long enough for the treatments to resume. According to the U.K Daily Mail, she is one of "thousands" of cancer patients abandoned by the lockdown policies, a policy that inherently regarded COVID-19 as a larger threat than cancer.

The overwhelming majority of COVID-19 deaths are people at or above life expectancy. The estimated 3-million-person backlog for cancer screenings in the U.K. will result in exponentially more life years lost because many of them, like Kelly Smith, are young. The U.K., like so many other countries, swapped out medical treatment and science that we know has worked for a strategy of locking down a virus that has never worked. The results are devastating and will continue to claim casualties long after the virus is over.

While the U.S. isn't quite as bad off because we don't have as much rationed care as the U.K., the death toll both from the initial lockdown and from the continued fear and panic, which drive people away from seeking preventive care, will continue to grow over time.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that medical billing and insurance claims data show there have been hundreds of thousands of missed and delayed mammograms and other forms of cancer screening since March. That is a recipe for thousands of people, over time, not getting a diagnosis until their diseases reacs stage 4 rather than the demonstrably more treatable stage 3. That is a very scary prospect, given that one in eight women develop breast cancer, and 78% of those with stage 4 breast cancer don't live past five years. Remember, the chance of dying of COVID-19 for most people is an infinitesimal number – below 1%.

Although most of the effects will be long-term, the Journal reports that cancer care provider 21st Century Oncology has already seen noticeable increases in the share of breast and lung cancer cases that are in advanced stages relative to the past five years.

"Claims tallied by researchers at UnitedHealth Group Inc., parent of the largest U.S. health insurer, show mammograms dropped by as much as 95% in the second week of April compared with that same week in previous years," reports the WSJ. "Screenings began to resume later in the summer, though they returned only to typical levels."

The nation's largest insurer has also observed through its claims data nearly a million fewer mammograms and colorectal and cervical cancer screenings for the first eight months of 2020, compared to the same period last year.

An analysis of medical billing from Community Oncology Alliance and Avalere Health indicate that oncology visits were down between 29% and 70% from March through July and biopsies for breast, lung, and colon cancer fell between 11% and 79% over the same period.

While the drop was the most severe during the first months of the actual full-scale shutdown, they are still well below average. According to the Health Care Cost Institute, mammograms fell 77 percent at the height of the pandemic, but were still down 23 percent in September long after the shutdown.

Why so? Although access to such care is no longer denied in most places, the fear and panic induced by the government and media are leading too many to believe that they are at greater risk of dying from the virus than from other ailments and to therefore delay critical preventive care. One Mayo Clinic doctor reported seeing more patients who ignored lumps in their bodies for fear contracting the virus while going out for testing. Other doctors and health networks have seen similar delays in colonoscopies, which have proven themselves lifesavers in catching silently growing colon cancer.

Now multiply these numbers of extra cancer deaths for many other ailments, such as heart and neurological illnesses, and you will find hundreds of thousands of excess deaths for years to come. A study published last week in Jama by Yale and Virginia Commonwealth University researchers found that even during the peak of the epidemic – from March through July – 33% of this year's excess deaths were not from the virus, but from non-respiratory causes, primarily cardiovascular, diabetes, and dementia. The cancer excess deaths will likely be spread out over time for years to come and, as this coronavirus becomes less deadly and more treatable, overshadow the deaths from the virus.

Moreover, this study accounted heavily for New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, where the virus hit particularly hard. In many places throughout the country, excess deaths from non-COVID causes are already higher than COVID-19 deaths in that given area.

Take Colorado, for example. A recent analysis of excess deaths in the Rocky Mountain State showed that at least 1,038 Coloradans have died from Colorado's reaction to COVID from June 14 through September 26, as compared to just 438 from the virus. My friend Karl Dierenbach, an engineer and attorney from Denver, posted an analysis of CDC mortality data showing that 200 of those excess deaths were Alzheimer's patients and 300 were from circulatory disease such as heart attacks and strokes. This harmonizes with an analysis published by local Denver doctors showing more people died of heart attacks because they declined to come to the ER than died from the virus in the area during the two week stay-at-home order in early April.

Among young people under 45, Colorado recorded just 100 virus deaths for the entire duration of the epidemic, while the CDC shows 500 additional excess deaths not related to COVID-19. They were likely due to suicides and drug overdoses from the stress, depression, fear, and mental illness.

The cruel irony is that there are generations of science and data vouching for the effectiveness of preventive measures in lowering the death rate of heart disease, cancer, and strokes. On the other hand, after six months of observations, it has become clear that none of these draconian social control measures have done anything to save a single life from the virus. Rather, the panic, fear, and depression these measures induce in the population will kill more people just from the mental health issues and the higher blood pressure and stress alone.

How true were the words of King David thousands of years ago when he was presented with a choice between a God-made punishment of pestilence and a man-made problem of war. As he opted for the plague, he told the prophet, "Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands." ~2 Samuel 24:14.
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