The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer diagnosis based on pathology notifications: A comparison across the Nordic countries during 2020

Anna L.V. Johansson, Siri Larønningen, Charlotte Wessel Skovlund, Marnar Fríðheim Kristiansen, Lina Steinrud Mørch, Søren Friis, Tom Børge Johannesen, Tor Åge Myklebust, Anna Skog, David Pettersson, Helgi Birgisson, Anni Virtanen, Nea Malila, Janne Pitkäniemi, Tomas Tanskanen, Laufey Tryggvadóttir, Giske Ursin, Mats Lambe

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The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent mitigation strategies have varied across the Nordic countries. In a joint Nordic population-based effort, we compared patterns of new cancer cases and notifications between the Nordic countries during 2020. We used pathology notifications to cancer registries in Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden to determine monthly numbers of pathology notifications of malignant and in situ tumours from January to December 2020 compared to 2019 (2017-2019 for Iceland and the Faroe Islands). We compared new cancer cases per month based on unique individuals with pathology notifications. In April and May 2020, the numbers of new malignant cases declined in all Nordic countries, except the Faroe Islands, compared to previous year(s). The largest reduction was observed in Sweden (May: −31.2%, 95% CI −33.9, −28.3), followed by significant declines in Finland, Denmark and Norway, and a nonsignificant decline in Iceland. In Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland the reporting rates during the second half of 2020 rose to almost the same level as in 2019. However, in Sweden and Finland, the increase did not compensate for the spring decline (annual reduction −6.2% and −3.6%, respectively). Overall, similar patterns were observed for in situ tumours. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a decline in rates of new cancer cases in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway, with the most pronounced reduction in Sweden. Possible explanations include the severity of the pandemic, temporary halting of screening activities and changes in healthcare seeking behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-395
JournalInternational journal of cancer
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • cancer
  • COVID-19
  • incidence
  • Nordic
  • SARS-CoV-2

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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