Healthbeat: Pandemic causes delay in cancer screenings, diagnoses

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NBC — New research shows the dramatic drop in cancer screenings at the start of the pandemic, potentially delaying thousands of diagnoses. While the numbers have reversed to an extent, cancer specialists are watching rising COVID-19 numbers cautiously, worried more dips may be on the horizon.

“The American Cancer Society’s top priority for 2021 is the return to screening,” said Dr. Bill Cance,  chief medical and scientific officer, American Cancer Society.

Getting patients caught up, or sticking to scheduled cancer screenings to catch diseases early, when they’re most treatable, amid an increasingly deadly pandemic.

“It’s really a perfect storm for delayed cancer diagnosis that will lead to an increase in cancer death rate in subsequent years,” Dr. Cance said.

Researchers, at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, found less than a quarter of patients received screenings during the first months of the pandemic, than the year before. 

“We’re talking about 1,400 cases that were potentially, you know, maybe not the word missed, but at least certainly postponed until these individuals actually got their test or screening tests done,” said Dr. Quoc Dien-Trinh, Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

While screening numbers rebounded the following three months, to around 51,000, health experts are worried, climbing COVID cases may divert resources, pause elective procedures and re-ignite anxieties leading to new decreases.  

Something officials are working to combat.

“We are much more well equipped to handle the patients and to do the social distancing, the staggering of patients, and so forth. So, there are so many measures in place at health care facilities now,” Dr. Cance said. 

Moves to reassure patients and keep them coming in for potentially lifesaving cancer screenings.

If you’re among those who are anxious about going in for a doctor’s visit or cancer screening, health experts suggest a telehealth consultation as a first step.

You can talk with your provider about what screenings you need and what safety measures their office has in place.

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