Ten Million Missed Cancer Screenings During the Pandemic

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One of the more concerning effects of the pandemic is that more people put off their routine medical exams and screenings when hospitals become overcrowded with each new COVID-19 wave.

According to Jorge A. Garcia, MD, FACP, Division Chief of Solid Tumor Oncology at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, Americans missed almost 10 million cancer screenings in the last two years.

“We have seen a significant decline in appointments for common screenings,” says Dr. Garcia, “including colonoscopies, mammograms, pap smears, and low-dose CT scans for lung cancer.”

Many people have postponed their health screenings for fear of getting sick with COVID-19 if they visit a medical facility. Additional contributing factors to the recent drop in cancer screenings are other pandemic-related issues such as supply chain shortages and staffing shortages at cancer clinics.

Why Are Cancer Screenings Important?

Early detection can often mean the difference between life and death for some cancers. Postponed cancer screenings mean that some undiagnosed cancerous tumors will be larger and more advanced by the time they are diagnosed. Screenings can detect precancerous lesions and cancers in their earliest stages, when they are typically the most treatable, often before symptoms even appear.

Time to Catch Up With Your Screenings

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations dropping in the U.S., Dr. Garcia emphasizes that now is the time for people to resume seeking the medical care they need, whether it be preventative or curative, and in particular to get back on track with their regular cancer screenings.

“If you were delaying your medical care in the last year or two, that is all the more reason to come in and get screened as soon as possible,” says Dr. Garcia. “Reach out to your primary care provider or another doctor to discuss age-appropriate cancer screening — whether in-person, phone or virtually. Because the fact is that cancer is a devastating disease, and its progression does not halt when people postpone their screenings.”

Some cancer screenings that may be appropriate:

  • An annual lung cancer screening for those 55 to 80 years old who have a 30-pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
  • A colon cancer screening at 45. You’ll follow up with another every three, five or 10 years depending on findings.
  • Women should get a breast cancer screening beginning at 40 and every one to two years thereafter based on a discussion between the patient and provider.
  • Between the ages of 21 to 65, women should have a cervical cancer screening every three years or as recommended by their physician.

Related Links

The best time to find a primary care doctor? Before you actually need one. It’s never too early to start preventive care. Long-term patient-doctor relationships help create long-term health. Learn more about primary care at University Hospitals and find a provider who suits your health care needs and those of your loved ones. Also, learn more about where to go, based on your illness, injury or condition.

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