Have you avoided visiting your doctor during COVID-19? If so, you’re not alone. However, when it comes to important cancer screenings often administered at clinics and healthcare facilities, doctors are concerned delays might set the stage for a future health crisis.
COVID-19 has caused many patients to delay screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies due to worry about potential exposure to the virus. The problem is delaying screenings can mean delayed diagnosis, which can impact treatment courses and ultimately survivorship.
“Delayed screenings are becoming a public health issue,” says Dr. Paul Thurmes, oncologist and executive vice president of Minnesota Oncology, the Twin Cities’ largest and most experienced treatment provider. “It’s important for people to continue getting their regular screenings, even in the midst of COVID-19,” stresses Dr. Thurmes. “Most cancer is treatable if detected early, so we recommend that people get their screenings scheduled now that they’re available in Minnesota.”
Troubling Forecasts Worry Healthcare Leaders
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) predicts 10,000 additional deaths from breast and colon cancers alone due to delayed screenings and treatments for only six months during the pandemic. This is on top of an expected one million deaths over the next decade for these cancers.
What’s more, this prediction does not consider people who have not yet been diagnosed. Delayed screenings delay the diagnosis, which may mean that patients won’t find out about the cancer until it is more advanced. More advanced cancers are often more difficult to treat, which typically lowers the survival rate.
“We have seen signs of delayed screenings at Minnesota Oncology in terms of reduced numbers of newly diagnosed patients. We expected this due to screenings being unavailable, but we’re concerned about undetected cancers becoming advanced if people continue to delay screenings,” says Dr. Thurmes.
If You Have Any Health Concerns, Contact Your Doctor
Dr. Thurmes’ advice to everyone: “Get those screenings scheduled as soon as possible, and of course, if a person has any concerning symptoms, they should seek care and not ignore those issues,” he says.
If you are due for any preventative cancer screenings or have symptoms you’re concerned about, it’s important to reach out to your physician. You can make an appointment now. Many clinics are now fully open or have expanded hours to help patients.
Keep in mind, most clinics now have safety measures in place to protect patients against viruses like COVID-19, such as personal protective equipment like masks and screens, social distancing requirements and signage, reduced patient loads, and advanced cleaning protocols. Call and ask for specifics if it provides peace of mind.
If you receive a cancer diagnosis, early personalized treatment is best. Minnesota Oncology’s 12 Twin Cities locations are open and accepting new patients. We are happy to consult for second opinions as well. With 19 physicians on Minnesota Monthly’s 2020 Top Doctors list and more than 100 cancer care experts, Minnesota Oncology and Plastic Surgery Consultants are proud to be a part of Minnesota’s community of care. Learn more and schedule an appointment at mnoncology.com.