Medical professionals in the Upstate are concerned that due to apprehension surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, patients have stopped going to the doctor or medical clinic for routine exams, and an uptick in advanced cancer cases may lie ahead.
The concern has an increased awareness during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Bon Secours oncologist Dr. Stephen Dyar says early detection allows for easier treatment, and cure rates are higher when cancers are detected earlier.
“Many times with mammography, we’re able to pick up on cancers before they invaded other tissues, before they’ve moved into lymph nodes, before they’ve moved into the bloodstream,” Dyar says. “We encourage women for that reason to have those mammograms, even when they’re not having symptoms, and I feel like if there’s other conflicting priorities, this should be one that’s way up there.”
Dyar says fears over the pandemic and whether doctor visits are safe have caused some patients to not seek appropriate care. “We’re talking about people who were actually having [cancer] symptoms who were afraid to come in because they were worried about exposure to the virus,” he said.
The reduction in screenings across the country was about 90% early on in the pandemic, says Dr. Jeff Giguere, medical director of Prisma Health’s Center for Integrative Oncology and Survivorship. “We just don’t want to be so cognizant of one public health issue that we create another public health issue with regard to cancer mortality.”
While in March and April there were stricter guidelines in place, now hospitals and medical care offices know more about COVID-19 and how to protect patients from its spread. But some people are still not going anywhere for any reason, including for their own health.
If you multiply the patients who are not going to get a mammogram either — those who fear going out as well as those who just haven’t prioritized getting an exam in this year of unpredictability — you get hundreds or thousands of patients that may develop breast cancer.
“[Hospitals have] seen a reduction over the past six, eight months, and what they’re projecting is that the downstream effect of that is going to perhaps be in the next 10 years, 10,000 extra deaths that could have potentially been prevented,” Giguere says.
And you can include other cancers too, like colon cancer or cervical cancer. “Those are things that you know are the sort of unseen costs of the pandemic,” he says.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States — skin cancer is the first. Source: CDC
Most breast cancer cases are found in women who didn’t have symptoms. Source: breastcancer.org
Approximately 1 out of 8 U.S. women — about 12% — will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. Source: breastcancer.org
About 1 out of every 100 breast cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S. is found in a man. Source CDC