When the world shut down last year because of COVID-19, many elective medical procedures and tests were put on hold, including screenings for cancer.
Dr. Devalkumar Rajyaguru, medical oncologist at Baptist Health Madisonville, said anyone who had an appointment canceled or postponed should talk to their healthcare team to reschedule the screening.
“I strongly encourage those who have put off these tests to get back on their schedules for regular cancer screening,” he said. “Regular cancer screenings save lives as screenings have the potential to detect pre-cancerous lesions and cancer at the earliest stages before symptoms appear and when these diseases are at their most treatable.”
Cancer screenings look for cancer in people who don’t show symptoms and differ from ones a doctor might order if someone presents symptoms that could come from cancer, like a lump in the breast or blood in the stool, he said. If someone is showing similar symptoms, they need to call their doctor to schedule an exam to evaluate those symptoms, according to Rajyaguru.
He said people should consider their personal and family history along with other factors like the timing of their last screening when making a new appointment.
“The COVID-19 pandemic initially led to sharp declines in the use of recommended cancer screening tests,” said Rajyaguru. “This means that some members of our community may have early cancers that are going undetected.”
Some people who are at an increased risk due to lifestyle or genetic factors should be tested more frequently than those who have a lower risk, he said. Some of the major cancer screenings are for cervical, breast, colorectal and lung.
Each type of cancer has its own screening guidelines doctors follow when dealing with patients, according to the American Cancer Society. For cervical cancer, it is recommended that anyone aged 25 until 65 with a cervix gets tested every five years.
For breast cancer, it is recommended that anyone aged 45 to 54 should get a mammogram every year, and women older than 55 should get one every two years, according to the American Cancer Society. Screenings should continue as long as the woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
“Some women — because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors — should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms,” said Rajyaguru. “The number of women who fall into this category is very small.”
When screening for colorectal cancer, people should start at 45 and continue until 75, provided they are in good health and are expected to live 10 more years or longer, according to the American Cancer Society. Anyone older should talk with their health care provider to determine if they need to continue being screened.
The United States Preventive Services Taskforce recommends getting screened for lung cancer for adults aged 50 to 80 who have a 20 pack per year smoking history or who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
The Baptist Health Madisonville Cancer Committee discusses all screening recommendations, and local screening initiatives are based on these recommendations with consideration to all, said Rajyaguru.
He said the fallout from cancer screenings coming to a stop last year is now becoming clear with the number of cancer diagnoses down from last year.
“This will likely result in a surge in cancer cases once testing resumes,” said Rajyaguru. “Many medical experts also fear that those diagnosed will be further along and that later treatment will negatively affect patients’ chances of recovery.”
Rajyaguru suggests that as restrictions are lifted and healthcare facilities are beginning to schedule routine cancer screenings, tests and exams again to consider a few things when making an appointment.
Early detection can make a difference because the later cancer is detected the more serious and involved the treatment becomes, he said.