Don't put off cancer screenings

Friday, October 22, 2021

Except for “essential service” workers, most of us hunkered down and stayed home last year when that was the best option for avoiding the COVID-19 virus, for which, as yet, there was no vaccine.

We worked from home, wore masks and stayed away from crowds because that was the best option available.

We put off getting haircuts going out to movies, because those activities weren’t available.

We even delayed going to the doctor or dentist, probably for longer than we should have.

In fact, after the US emergency declaration went into effect on March 13, 2020, the American Cancer Society issued a recommendation that people should pause their cancer screenings until further notice.

We followed that recommendation. Pandemic precautions significantly interrupted almost all aspects of cancer control and prevention procedures, such as cancer screening services, elective surgeries and therapeutic routines. According to Epic Health Research Network, between Jan. 20 and April 21, 2020, screenings for breast, colon and cervical cancers dropped by 94%, 86% and 94%, respectively during the COVID-19 outbreak.

But that shouldn’t become the norm, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Testing can’t cure cancer, but it’s a vital, successful tool in fighting the disease.

Cancer killed an estimated 606,520 American’s in 2020 alone, but the rate of cancer-related deaths has been falling over the last two decades with improved research and prevention.

According to the Journal of American Medical Association, screening is linked to about 20% reduction in breast cancer mortality for women of all ages.

Research further shows that if colorectal cancer screening rates in people aged 50-70 years improved to 80%, more than 30% of the deaths resulting from colorectal cancer would be avoided, as well as one-third of current costs.

For genetically predisposed individuals, the benefits of prescribed cancer screening are even greater.

Screenings are different than tests a doctor may order when finding symptoms of cancer such as a lump in the breast or blood in the stool — see your doctor as soon as possible in those cases.

Cancer screenings, however, can detect cancer at a much earlier stage.

Based on pre-COVID-19 projections, further delays in cancer screenings will cause increased cancer rates overall and will have a variety of impacts across different populations, according to the DHHS.

Knowing the overall benefit of cancer screening versus the risk of acquiring COVID-19, using at-home screening tests, and keeping the delays in screenings to a minimum may help improve access for more people.

While it’s still a good idea to get vaccinated and take COVID precautions, most of us are returning to regular activities.

Those should include rescheduling all missed cancer screenings as well as regular checkups.

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