By Rachel Koonse, LMFT
With so much uncertainty this year, it feels as though much is out of our control. We have adjusted our lives, and then readjusted, to acclimate to the ever-changing status of the COVID-19 pandemic in our country. And yet, while so much is out of our control, we do have some agency to pursue medical services that maximize our health and well-being. Unfortunately, due to legitimate concerns about safety, healthcare shutdowns, and continually present uncertainties, many of us have deferred these potentially lifesaving medical services.
Growing research is illustrating that cancer screening appointments have significantly decreased in 2020. This is due to a number of factors, including guidance from the American Society of Clinical Oncology at the beginning of the pandemic to postpone routine screenings to “conserve health system resources and reduce patient contact with health screening facilities.” What’s more, many patients are compelled to weigh an internal cost benefit analysis: does it do more harm to enter a medical clinic for a screening appointment and risk exposure to COVID-19, or does it do more harm to delay preventive care? In a recent study published by the Oncology Journal, it was found that routine cancer screenings for breast cancer decreased by 89.2% and that, by May of 2020, colorectal cancer screenings decreased by 84.5%.
Ultimately, delays in screening appointments have resulted in almost 50% fewer cancer diagnoses this year. What this means is that, in 2021, we may see a significant surge in cancer diagnoses. And not only will we see an increase in diagnoses, we will also see more late stage diagnoses as undetected cancer is like a “ticking time bomb” according to Debra Patt, MD, PhD, Executive Vice President of Policy and Strategic Initiatives at Texas Oncology. Those with later stage diagnoses tend to have poorer outcomes, meaning that we may see more cancer-related deaths in the next year. Some models predict that we will see 34,000 cancer-related deaths in 2021 and an 11.9% increase in death rates from the disease.
These projections are alarming, bleak, and extremely disconcerting.
And yet, we do not have to be complacent: we have agency to take steps in our lives, and compel others to take steps to change these outcomes.
1. Routine cancer screening is vitally important. If you have deferred screenings, or needed to cancel a screening due to the pandemic, contact your healthcare providers to talk about the best option for rescheduling those appointments. Additional resources on how to resume delayed screenings can be found through “Back on the Books” – a list of tools from the Prevent Cancer Foundation on how to reschedule your cancer screenings.
2. Many screenings can be done in the comfort of your own home. For example, stool tests can be completed at home for colon cancer screening.
3. Research your medical clinic’s coronavirus safety precautions. The CDC has issued guidelines for healthcare facilities to ensure that day-to-day clinic operations are conducted safely. Knowing what your medical clinic is doing to promote safety may give you more peace of mind going in for a screening appointment.
4. Don’t discount telemedicine! Telehealth is a great option to meet with your provider in an entirely socially-distanced manner! Additionally, some screenings can be conducted virtually, including visual analysis for skin cancer screening.
5. Educate. Educate your loved ones about the importance of screening. Encourage them to contact their healthcare team to discuss their options for screening appointments during this time. Also, turn to resources like the Community Oncology Alliance for accurate and up to date information.
In this year of uncertainties, make some things a certainty: collaborate with your medical team to ensure that you have critical medical appointments on the books. CSCP embodies a “Patient Active” model, meaning that we empower our participants to pursue health and well-being in the manner that is best for them. Part of being Patient Active is remaining informed so that you are equipped to make important decisions about your health. We hope that this post will compel you to be Patient Active, prioritize your health in the new year, and encourage your loved ones to do the same.
Back on the Books - Prevent Cancer Foundation. Prevent Cancer Foundation. (2020). Retrieved 22 December 2020, from https://www.preventcancer.org/education/back-on-the-books/.
Boyles, S. (2020). Covid-19: Pandemic Causing Deadly Delays in Cancer Diagnosis | Physician's Weekly. Physiciansweekly.com. Retrieved 22 December 2020, from https://www.physiciansweekly.com/covid-19-pandemic-causing-deadly-delays-in-cancer-diagnosis/.
Cancer care and screenings must remain a priority during COVID-19. MD Anderson Cancer Center. (2020). Retrieved 22 December 2020, from https://www.mdanderson.org/newsroom/cancer-care-and-screenings-must-remain-a-priority-during-covid-1.h00-159384312.html.
Cancer Screening During the COVID-19 Pandemic | Cancer Tests and Coronavirus. Cancer.org. (2020). Retrieved 22 December 2020, from https://www.cancer.org/healthy/find-cancer-early/cancer-screening-guidelines/cancer-screening-during-covid-19-pandemic.html.
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Forster, V. (2020). Cancer Diagnoses Drop Almost 50% During Coronavirus Pandemic. Forbes. Retrieved 22 December 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/victoriaforster/2020/08/04/cancer-diagnoses-drop-almost-50-during-coronavirus-pandemic/?sh=4426f39f7053.
New Study Finds COVID-19 Substantially Reduced Cancer Screenings, Diagnosis, and Treatments in 2020. Prnewswire.com. (2020). Retrieved 22 December 2020, from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-study-finds-covid-19-substantially-reduced-cancer-screenings-diagnosis-and-treatments-in-2020-301157148.html#:~:text=COA%20and%20Avalere%20Health%20also%20report%20reductions% 20 in,to%20-33%25%29%2C%20and%20lung%20%28-58%25%20to%20-47%25%29%2C%20 respectively.
Pruthi, MD, S. (2020). Routine cancer screening during the pandemic. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 22 December 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/expert-answers/cancer-screening-during-covid19/faq-20489122.
Vose, J. (2020). Delay in Cancer Screening and Diagnosis During the COVID-19 Pandemic: What Is the Cost?. Cancer Network. Retrieved 22 December 2020, from https://www.cancernetwork.com/view/delay-in-cancer-screening-and-diagnosis-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-what-is-the-cost.