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Cancer screening slump

Critical health checks declined during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Article Author: Juice Staff

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The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on cancer screenings.

According to JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics, a peer-reviewed medical journal, cancer screenings and treatments declined sharply during the early months of the pandemic. A November 2020 study found screenings in the United States for breast, colon, prostate and lung cancers dropped by 85%, 75%, 74% and 56%, respectively, in April 2020. This was largely due to treatment centers temporarily pausing services or patients opting to avoid preventive care out of fear of contracting COVID-19.

Now that cancer screenings are once again readily available, it is more important than ever to not delay safe, potentially life-saving medical care.

‘Screening saves lives’

At Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center, lung and breast cancer screenings were temporarily suspended on Mar. 23, 2020, due to an executive order from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to halt all elective procedures. Comprehensive cancer screenings, which are critical for early detection and treatment, resumed in May 2020.

“Prevention is always best, but screening saves lives,” said Bill Putnam, MD, medical director of Baptist MD Anderson. “We want patients to know that we dedicate an equal amount of effort to taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and making sure they have access to these critical procedures.”

To ensure patients are safe during cancer screenings, Baptist MD Anderson has implemented enhanced sanitation measures, temperature checks at each door and universal masking for staff, patients and visitors. Patients can also schedule virtual visits to discuss low-contact screening options and procedures, such as robot-assisted bronchoscopy to detect lung cancer.

When it comes to lung cancer, early detection is crucial. According to Carolyn Baggett, RN, Baptist MD Anderson lung cancer screening program coordinator, lung cancer has a 90% to 95% cure rate in its earliest stages. That number drops to just 6% once the cancer progresses to stage 4.

“Since there are no pain sensors in the lungs, once a patient experiences pain, the cancer has likely advanced from its early stages and has begun to grow and press on other structures in the body,” Dr. Putnam said. “Screenings are indispensable. Discovering lung cancer early helps patients have the best chance possible at a positive outcome.”

Additionally, women should continue to receive routine mammograms during the pandemic. Baptist MD Anderson oncology nurse navigators Peggy Neville, RN, and Laveda Carter, RN, explained these screenings give patients the greatest chance to defeat breast cancer.

“Roughly one in eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer within her lifetime, but it’s 95% curable in its early stages,” Neville said. “Mammograms help us identify cancer before it’s too late.”

According to Carter, specific underserved groups, such as women of color, may have limited access to screenings and need to be targeted by outreach to be connected to comprehensive cancer care. To answer the call, Baptist MD Anderson, in partnership with First Coast News, launched a "Buddy Bus" initiative to provide mobile 3D mammography screening to communities across Northeast Florida by the end of 2021.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw some patients choose to not get mammograms out of fear of the virus, but this is not ideal,” Carter said. “Some cancers can progress in a short amount of time. If a patient chooses to delay care, his or her cancer could become much more advanced, which affects his or her prognosis. We’re excited to soon be able to launch this bus and bring this preventive care to those who need it the most.”

If you are interested in learning more about cancer screenings or setting up a screening appointment with your primary care physician, please visit Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center or contact Baptist Primary Care at 904.202.4968.

Source: JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics

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