Why You Shouldn’t Put Off Cancer Screening
Don’t let the pandemic prevent you from seeing your doctor.
The constant news about COVID-19 has left little room to think about other illnesses, but they haven’t gone away. Many aspects of our lives have been put on hold because of the pandemic. While we have been focused on reducing the spread of the virus, another health crisis is growing. A number of Americans have delayed or missed their routine cancer screenings within the last year. You may be concerned about going into a healthcare facility right now to get screened – and you’re not alone.
According to one report, medical facilities experienced an estimated 80% to 90% decline in screening for breast, colorectal, and cervical cancers among their patient population during March and April of 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019.1
A year into the pandemic, those numbers have improved, but still remain a concern. Recent reports indicate at least a 30% decline in the number of cancer screening tests being done compared to pre-pandemic years.2
Early detection is key to finding cancer early when it’s most likely to be treated successfully; detection and diagnosis begin with screening tests.3 If concerns about COVID-19 are holding you back from prioritizing your health, here are a few things to consider.
Safety Measures are in Place
Screenings are done in healthcare facilities that should follow the CDC recommended guidance to help prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.4 This includes pre-screening patients for COVID-related symptoms before appointments, assessing visitors for fever and other COVID-19 symptoms before they enter the facility, and limiting visitors to only those essential for a patient’s care.3
These facilities are also stringently monitoring face mask requirements and cough etiquette, and spacing patients and visitors at least six feet apart in designated waiting areas. Patients may even be asked to wait in their car until they are called in to reduce the number of people in waiting areas.5
Talk to Your Doctor About Your Screening Needs
Regular screenings are recommended for detection of several types of cancers, including breast, cervical, colorectal, and lung. But the type and frequency of screening tests vary and there may be flexibility in scheduling for some tests.3
It’s important to discuss cancer screening with your doctor, who can help you determine what screening schedule and which screening tests are best for you at this time.
Screenings Can Potentially Save Your Life
The death rate from cancer in the U.S. has steadily declined in the last three decades. From 1991 to 2018, it fell 31%.3 One reason for the drop? A rise in early cancer detection. Routine screenings can detect certain cancers – early, before they cause symptoms and start to spread – greatly improving health outcomes. In some cases, as with colorectal and cervical cancer, regular screening can even help prevent cancer from forming by removing precancerous polyps or lesions.3 If your screening was postponed due to COVID-19, be sure to talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of screening.
Emotionally, it’s an overwhelming time to be thinking much beyond COVID when it comes to your health, but it’s still critical to prioritize the preventive measures needed to help protect yourself. Make a pledge with your sister, mom, or close girlfriend to get screened for cancer during National Women’s Health Week, May 9-15. Being proactive can potentially save your life.
Visit www.CancerScreenWeek.org to learn which screenings are right for you, where you can get screened, and your options if you don’t have insurance.
1. American Cancer Society. “Cancer Facts & Figures 2021/Special Section: COVID-19 and Cancer.”
2. Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection. "Declines in Cancer Screening During COVID-19 Pandemic."
3. American Cancer Society. “Cancer Facts & Figures 2021”
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Healthcare Facilities: Managing Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic”
5. American Cancer Society (2021). “Cancer Screening During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”