Routine cancer screenings plummet during pandemic

Coronavirus

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The ripple effect of COVID-19 continues— this time, with cancer screenings. As the pandemic surged over the past year and a half, routine screening rates plummeted.

According to the CDC, the total number of cancer screenings received by their early detection program declined by 87% for breast cancer and 84% for cervical cancer since April of 2020.

“Locally, our cancer screening rates have followed suit with what’s happening throughout the country. So, there’s a significant decline in cancer screening that occurred, particularly around the epicenter of the pandemic, so that was around March through May of 2020,” said Dr. Neil Sharma, the president of Parkview’s Cancer Institute.

Doctors warn that missing these screenings can be detrimental to people’s health.

“When we can find that cancer at an earlier stage just simply through screenings, those screenings will allow patients to have a better outcome from their cancer, reduce the amount of side effects they may have from treatment, reduce the cost and overall help their chances of surviving the cancer,” said Dr. Sharma.

He added that the nation may not see the impact of the missed screenings for years.

“Some cancers might grow a little bit faster like pancreas or esophageal cancer. Those patients, we saw them presenting maybe a later stage,” said Dr. Sharma. “For cancers at a slower rate such as colon cancer, perhaps they missed one opportunity for a screening colonoscopy or another test, this would be a great time for them to come back in and try to catch it, as soon as possible. Similarly for breast or cervical cancer.”

Dr. Sharma said since the early stages of the pandemic, screenings have started to get back on track, but aren’t “quite there yet.”

Despite the progress, with the recent surge in COVID cases, Dr. Sharma says there is some concern that a similar pattern could follow.

“There’s obviously concern with the Delta variant,” said Dr. Sharma. “So, I think a great start is to at least consider a vaccination, to try to reduce your risk of getting COVID in general. Obviously, that would make it safer for those individuals to go about normal activities and engage in things like preventative health care.”

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