Founder and CEO, Prevent Cancer Foundation
Many people have understandably delayed their regularly scheduled cancer screenings during the pandemic, but the time has come to get these important preventative tests back on the books.
For 35 years, the Prevent Cancer Foundation has encouraged routine cancer screenings as an essential tool in preventing cancer or detecting it early, when successful treatment is more likely. We know screening saves lives, which is why it’s a central focus of our work.
It can be challenging for people to prioritize prevention and early detection in the best of times. But we never could have predicted that 2020 would bring us a pandemic, further challenging cancer prevention and early detection.
When the coronavirus arrived in the United States, so many things were put on hold — including routine cancer screening. According to Epic Health Research Network, screenings for colon, breast, and cervical cancers dropped between 86 and 94 percent from January 20 to April 21 of 2020.
We also know from a recent Prevent Cancer Foundation survey that many people are still planning to postpone or cancel their screening appointments. Many of these cancellations are due to fears of exposure to the coronavirus.
But healthcare providers have been working hard to implement procedures to keep everyone safe. Some providers have new processes for patients to check in and wait from their cars, or they have visual markers in the waiting room to help people maintain physical distance. They are likely requiring staff and visitors to wear masks, conducting temperature checks and COVID-19 questionnaires before visits, and doing frequent and thorough cleaning of all spaces and high-touch areas.
Getting back on track
As restrictions lift in many places, it’s important to get cancer screenings back on the books. Anyone due for a mammogram, Pap test, colonoscopy, PSA test, lung cancer screening, skin check or dental appointment should reschedule their appointment immediately. Likewise, it’s important to keep kids on track for their scheduled vaccinations to protect the next generation from preventable diseases. And 11 and 12-year-olds should be getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which protects against a virus that can cause at least six types of cancer.
Cancer screening is never one-size-fits-all, and that’s never truer than during a pandemic. Personal circumstances may change the risk calculation for rescheduling these appointments, and should be discussed with a healthcare provider.