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AMP Survey Finds Significant Decline in Molecular Cancer Testing Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

NEW YORK – The Association for Molecular Pathology released preliminary survey results on Tuesday showing that molecular testing for cancer declined significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The "Molecular Testing for Cancer during COVID-19" survey was conducted in October and garnered 219 responses.  Eighty-five percent of respondents reported that molecular testing for cancer decreased during April, May, and June of 2020 compared to 2019. Twenty-eight percent noted a marked decrease in testing volumes during that period, and 33 percent reported a moderate decrease. Fourteen percent reported a slight decrease and 10 percent reported a significant decrease.

In the third quarter of 2020, 23 percent of respondents saw a slight decrease in testing volumes compared to 2019, and 15 percent a moderate decrease. In addition, some labs reported higher volumes in the third quarter compared to 2019, with 15 percent reporting slight increases and 11 percent moderate increases.

Respondents were from academic medical centers, community hospital or health system laboratories, commercial reference laboratories, and government laboratories across the world, with 59 percent located in the US.

More than half of them said oncology testing for clinical trials had decreased because of lower enrollment, reluctance to travel, or ability to perform testing.

Survey participants also said they had challenges accessing required supplies and facilities, as well as recruiting and retaining trained professionals, because resources were reallocated to SARS-CoV-2 testing. They noted that laboratory space and instruments that were previously not used for infectious disease testing were dedicated to COVID-19 testing and that there had been a decrease in elective procedures, resulting in fewer orders. 

Half of the respondents said they experienced shortages of general laboratory reagents and consumables, such as pipette tips, and 34 percent said they experienced personal protective equipment shortages. 

Laboratories reported that the shutdowns related to the pandemic had decreased or paused development or validation of new tests, along with increasing turnaround times for tests and stopping or canceling orders for new equipment. The top economic issues labs reported were strains on laboratory staffing requiring more money for overtime, decreased revenue due to reduced ordering, and unexpected price increases for reagents and supplies. They also said more tests had to be sent out instead of being performed in house.

AMP previously reported results from surveys conducted in April and August about molecular testing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization said it is emphasizing two of its previous recommendations in light of the new results, to reprioritize supply allocations based on clinical testing needs and to support the clinical laboratory workforce.

The organization noted that at the time the survey was conducted, most clinical laboratories were relying on RT-PCR methods. However, with new strains and variants of the virus spreading, demand for next-generation sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 is increasing and labs "may face additional, specific burdens on the supply chain for NGS-related reagents and materials," AMP said.