Global cancer research in the era of COVID-19: a bibliometric analysis

7 Jul 2021
Mieke Van Hemelrijck, Grant Lewison, Louis Fox, Verna DNK Vanderpuye, Raúl Murillo, Chris M Booth, Karen Canfell, CS Pramesh, Richard Sulivan, Deborah Mukherij

Background: Patients with cancer across the world have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic due to increased risk of infection and disruption to cancer diagnosis and treatment. Widening of healthcare disparities is expected as the gap between health systems with and without adequate resources to mitigate the pandemic become more apparent. We undertook a bibliometric analysis of research related to cancer and COVID-19 to understand (1) the type of research that has been conducted (e.g. patients, services and systems) and (2) whether the pandemic has impacted the state of global cancer research as measured by research outputs to date.

Methods: An existing filter for cancer research consisting of title words and the names of specialist cancer journals was used to identify cancer and COVID-19 related articles and reviews in the Web of Science (©Clarivate Analytics) between January 2019 and February 2021.

Results: One thousand five hundred and forty-five publications were identified. The majority (57%) were reviews, opinion pieces or concerned with modelling impact of delays to diagnosis and treatment. The main research domains focused on managing or estimating COVID-19 risk to cancer patients accounting for 384 papers (25%). High Income countries contributed the largest volume (n = 1,115; 72%), compared to Upper Middle (n = 302; 20%), Lower Middle (n = 122; 8%) and Low Income countries (n = 2.4; 0.2%). No evidence of a reduction in global cancer research output was observed in 2020.

Conclusions: We observed a shift in research focus rather than a decline in absolute output. However, there is variation based on national income and collaborations are minimal. There has been a focus on pan-cancer studies rather than cancer site-specific studies. Strengthening global multidisciplinary research partnerships with teams from diverse backgrounds with regard to gender, clinical expertise and resource setting is essential to prevent the widening of cancer inequalities.

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