Should COVID-19 Put Your Screening and Treatment Plans on Hold?
“Fear of contracting the coronavirus in health care settings has dissuaded people from screening, diagnosis, and treatment,” Norman E. Sharpless, MD, director of the National Cancer Institute, wrote in Science magazine. “In general, the earlier one receives cancer treatment, the better the results. Cancers being missed now will still come to light eventually, but at a later stage and with worse prognoses.”
If you are concerned about cancer screening and treatment amid the pandemic, you may be asking yourself:
- Should I still get my scheduled cancer screenings?
- Is it safe to delay cancer screenings?
- Is it worth the risk to go to a facility for a screening?
- Should I put off my cancer treatment?
- How should I decide whether to get screened?
Experts agree: Don’t put off cancer screenings.
With the coronavirus pandemic making people stay home and put off any non-urgent appointments, fewer people are getting preventive cancer screenings, which means many people who have cancer won’t be diagnosed and won’t be able to start treatment at the earliest possible stage.
When the pandemic first hit the U.S. in March and April, new cancer diagnoses dropped 46% for six types of cancer — breast, colorectal, lung, gastric, pancreatic, and esophageal — according to Quest Diagnostics. Unfortunately, that decline wasn’t due to fewer cancer cases, but rather to people avoiding cancer screenings or ignoring symptoms that could be related to cancer.
According to data compiled by the Epic Health Research Network on screenings at more than 300 hospitals, screenings for cervical, colon, and breast cancers dropped as much as 94% from the beginning of the pandemic through May. By June the numbers had recovered somewhat, but the number of screenings was still 29%-36% lower than in previous years.
In addition, many people are delaying cancer treatment or medical procedures that have been deemed nonurgent or “elective.” According to Dr. Sharpless, these delays in diagnosis and treatment could lead to an additional 10,000 deaths from breast and colorectal cancers (two cancer types that make up one sixth of all cancer deaths, and for which screenings are especially effective) over the next 10 years.
The Leever Cancer Center Provides Safe Cancer Care Amid COVID-19
You can rest assured that we are taking every precaution to ensure the safety of our staff and patients. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have put a number of new procedures in place that are designed not only to minimize the possibility of infection, but to reassure our patients that seeking the care they need will not endanger their health.
One recent visitor to the Leever Cancer Center, Kim Millia, whose primary care doctor recommended that she see her provider for further testing after a blood transfusion, immediately noticed all the new precautionary measures.
“I knew the safest place to go would be a place that already has to be completely clean and sanitary because of patients with suppressed immune systems,” said Millia. “I just assumed that every precaution necessary would be taken because of the clientele they are working with.”
Her expectations were realized when she visited the Leever Cancer Center. She was met by a greeter who took her temperature, made sure she was wearing a mask, and provided hand sanitizer. While she waited, she noticed that many of the waiting room chairs had been blocked off to promote social distancing, and maintenance workers were regularly disinfecting high-traffic surfaces.
At a time when there is so much uncertainly and fear, the Leever Cancer Center is dedicated to providing an oasis of calm and safety to ensure that needed cancer care is not delayed. “Everything was extremely well taken care of,” said Kim. “I felt very comfortable and confident.”
Click here for more information on health and safety at the Leever Cancer Center.
Screening Advice from Our Own Experts
PROSTATE CANCER SCREENING
"In prostate cancer cases that require active therapy, fractionated radiation therapy can not only be extremely successful at treating localized prostate cancer; it can be more cost-effective and convenient for patients. In order to get the most effective treatment, it’s crucial to identify prostate cancer in its earliest stages, which makes regular prostate cancer screenings an important part of your regular health maintenance.” – Joseph Ravalese, III, MD, Radiation Oncologist
Annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal examination (DRE) to look for abnormal or suspicious masses for:
- All men starting at age 50
- African-American men and men with a strong family history starting at age 45
- Men with multiple first-degree relatives affected at an early age starting as early as age 40
BREAST CANCER SCREENING
“While self-exams and close attention to any breast changes are an important way to monitor breast health, regular mammograms are the best method of finding breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt.” – Jeffrey A. Bitterman, MD, Radiation Oncologist
Annual image screenings (mammograms) for:
- All women starting at age 40-45, with the option to move to screenings every other year after age 55
- Women with BRCA mutations in the immediate family, or who have a family history of breast cancer, starting at age 30
- Women who received mantle radiation between the ages of 10 and 30, starting eight years after the radiation therapy, but not before age 25
LUNG CANCER SCREENING
"Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in America, in part because it is difficult to detect in the early stages. Low-dose screening can help detect lung cancer early, when there is a better chance for successful treatment.” – Douglas Housman, MD, Radiation Oncologist
Annual low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan for all men and women who:
- Have a history of heavy smoking (e.g., one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years)
- Still smoke or quit less than 15 years ago
- Are aged 55-80