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The Japan Cancer Society is urging people to get screened for cancer as soon as possible after reporting Saturday that screenings fell around 30% in 2020 from the previous year.

The drop may have been due to the many medical checkups that were canceled due to the spread of the coronavirus, with many people refraining from visiting doctors amid the pandemic.

The Tokyo-based society is calling on people to receive cancer screenings at an early date, saying estimates based on the size of the decrease of screening recipients and cancer detection rates show that some 1,000 to 2,100 people may have undetected cases of the disease.

The society asked its 42 branches across the country to report the number of recipients of cancer screenings offered by local governments and received valid answers from 32 branches in February and March this year.

The survey found that the number of people who received screenings for stomach, lung, bowel, breast and cervical cancers in 2020 fell some 30.5% from 5,670,796 in 2019 to 3,941,491. That also marks a drop of around 32.2% from 2018.

The number of cancer screening recipients plunged some 85% from a year before in April last year, when the government declared its first state of emergency over the virus, and dived 93% the following month.

After the emergency declaration was fully lifted in late May 2020, the number of screening recipients began to grow and recovered to 2018 and 2019 levels in October.

Cancers are often detected incidentally during treatment for other diseases. According to the society, there may be more hidden cancer patients when taking into account the fact that many people refrained from visiting doctors during the pandemic.

“Cancers can progress rapidly in a short period of time,” an official of the society said, urging people who did not undergo cancer screening in 2020 to make sure they get screened this year.

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