Doctors say drop in cancer screenings due to fear of COVID-19 is dangerous

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Patients shouldn't skip these preventative exams because they're just too important, health officials warn

(WKBN) – Doctors are urging patients not to put off cancer screenings during the pandemic. They say it’s important not to skip preventative exams because it could lead to even bigger problems.

Since the pandemic began, health officials say cancer screenings have decreased significantly. They want to remind people those screenings are not just important for overall health, but they’re the most effective way to catch cancer at an early stage.

At the start of the pandemic, elective procedures — including cancer screenings — were put on hold so health officials could prioritize urgent needs and try to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Since screenings started up again, there hasn’t been a huge upswing — patients haven’t been returning.

In fact, doctors say a recent study shows breast cancer screenings across the country have dropped almost 30% during the pandemic. Another study by the Epic Health Research Network shows almost 300,000 breast screenings were missed between the middle of March and the middle of June.

“[Masses] can become bigger,” said Dr. Amy Awaida, a Hope Center oncologist and hematologist. “There’s many different nuisances to cancer, as far as breast cancer, because there’s many different types. Some are more aggressive than others but that annual mammogram will definitely be able to pick something up at a much earlier stage, like a stage 1 where it’s small and confined within the breast, rather than when it’s spread.”

Health officials say mammograms detect about 85% of breast cancer and lower the risk of it spreading.

“Mammograms are vital, as far as early detection,” Awaida said. “We do rely on women knowing their body, so sometimes if they’re able to feel something and they notice some mass, don’t delay. Get it checked out. I think it’s one of those that’s so important, and some women feel it and ignore it for months until it grows and grows.”

Doctors recommend all women have yearly mammograms starting at age 40.

She thinks some people are worried about coming in for screenings because of COVID-19. However, health officials are following all of the safety measures — wearing masks, sanitizing everything and practicing social distancing.

Continuing to delay these important screenings out of fear of catching COVID-19 could cause many cancers to go undiagnosed or be diagnosed at a later stage when they’re more difficult to treat.

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