Modeling the Impact of Delaying the Diagnosis of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer During COVID-19.


The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led surgical societies to recommend delaying diagnosis and treatment of suspected lung cancer for lesions less than 2 cm. Delaying diagnosis can lead to disease progression, but the impact of this delay on mortality is unknown. The COVID-19 infection rate at which immediate operative risk exceeds benefit is unknown. We sought to model immediate versus delayed surgical resection in a suspicious lung nodule less than 2 cm.

A decision analysis model was developed, and sensitivity analyses performed. The base case was a 65-year-old male smoker with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease presenting for surgical biopsy of a 1.5 to 2 cm lung nodule highly suspicious for cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic. We compared immediate surgical resection to delayed resection after 3 months. The likelihood of key outcomes was derived from the literature where available. The outcome was 5-year overall survival.

Immediate surgical resection resulted in a similar but slightly higher 5-year overall survival when compared with delayed resection (0.77 versus 0.74) owing to the risk of disease progression. However, if the probability of acquired COVID-19 infection is greater than 13%, delayed resection is favorable (0.74 vs 0.73).

Immediate surgical biopsy of lung nodules suspicious for cancer in hospitals with low COVID-19 prevalence likely results in improved 5-year survival. However, as the risk of perioperative COVID-19 infection increases above 13%, a delayed approach has similar or improved survival. This balance should be frequently reexamined at each health care facility throughout the curve of the pandemic.

  • Deppen SA
  • Grogan EL
  • Haddad DN
  • Kozower BD
  • Shipe ME
PubMed ID
Appears In
Ann Thorac Surg, 2021, 112 (1)