Staying healthy in the era of COVID-19 isn’t just a matter of masking, social distancing and using hand sanitizer. It’s also important to tend to routine preventive cancer screenings so that changes in your health don’t go undetected.
A recent survey by the Prevent Cancer Foundation found that COVID-19 concerns prompted 35% of Americans to skip routine cancer screenings and 43% to miss medical appointments. This is troubling on many fronts.
Many cancers — particularly colorectal, breast and cervical — are more easily cured if caught early. The Epic Health Research Network published a study revealing a stunning 86% drop in colon cancer screenings and a 94% plunge in breast and cervical cancer screenings since the pandemic started.
Protecting yourself and your family from delayed diagnoses is arguably as important as protection from the coronavirus. Preventive medical care may require an in-person visit to your doctor, and hospitals and physician offices are taking extra precautions to help diminish the risks associated with COVID-19.
Are you doing your part to ensure that you and your family members have scheduled these tests to stay on track with preventive care? Check with your primary care physician for help in determining screenings for which you and your family may be overdue. Common screenings include:
- Colorectal cancer — Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in both men and women over 50, but it can typically be treated if caught early. While a colonoscopy remains the gold standard for screening, doctors can often order home screening kits, which are mailed to patients who can then collect and return a stool sample. If any abnormalities are found, the patient is then referred for a follow-up colonoscopy.
- Breast cancer — Mammograms are recommended annually for women 40 and older, as well as all women who may be at higher risk, such as a family history of breast cancer in multiple relatives or at a younger age. This low-dose X-ray examines the breasts for abnormalities. Digital tomosynthesis, or 3D mammography, can see many layers of breast tissue for a more thorough picture, reducing the incidence of callbacks for additional testing.
- Cervical cancer — To detect cervical cancer in its early stages, women 21 to 65 should have an annual Pap smear to check for changes in the cervix. It’s particularly important to catch cervical cancer early, so call your primary care doctor or OB-GYN if you’ve missed a year.
While the pandemic has made much in life feel uncertain, we can control cancer prevention by getting our screenings. Then you can enjoy the peace of mind that comes with taking charge of your health.
We want to keep you safe, and we want to keep you healthy. Periodic appointments with your physician can help ensure that you won’t have to go to the hospital for a more serious condition.
Jason Fish, M.D., is Chief Medical Officer at Southwestern Health Resources.