According to several recent studies, a secondary health crisis seems to be on the rise in this country in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, one that may unfold over the next several months and even years. It’s not the after-effects of Covid-19 (although those also seem numerous and still vastly unknown), but a crisis caused by delays in essential healthcare screenings and management.
An article printed in The New York Times reported that nearly half of all American adults have skipped or delayed some kind of medical care since the beginning of Covid (Sep 11, 2020). And according to a company called Epic, which tracks electronic medical records, preventative screenings for cervical, colon and breast cancer plummeted as much as 96 percent in the month of March alone (State News, May 5, 2020).
A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reiterates these findings, indicating that the diagnoses for six types of cancers dropped in March and April. These cancers include: breast, colorectal, lung, pancreatic, gastric and esophageal (Aug 4, 2020). What this study shows is that patients are staying away from doctors’ offices and other healthcare practices out of fear of contracting the Covid-19 virus. The unfortunate fact is that while patients are staying away and not having their cancers diagnosed, they are still getting cancer.
Delays in cancer diagnosis can ultimately have dire consequences. The National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be an additional ten-thousand deaths in the United States in the next ten years from colon and breast cancers, and they say that this number is “conservative (Sep 2, 2020).”
Dr. Jason McKellop, Medical Director at Breastlink Tarzana, and a board-certified breast imager, put it this way: “There will be an impact that will be felt and will be detectable down the road…There will be untoward consequences as a result of the interruption in the routine screening paradigm that existed before Covid-19.”
As for breast cancer specifically, another study indicates that 1 in 3 women delayed their mammograms because of Covid and nearly 30% of women said that in general, their breast health has become a lower priority since the beginning of the outbreak (Survivornet.com, Oct 1, 2020). For Dr. McKellop, this is especially disheartening. He says that finding cancers when they are small translates into lives saved and that there is a 99 percent 5 year survival rate for breast cancer patients who are diagnosed in the earliest stages of their cancer. “Time is essential,” Dr. McKellop warns. “Breast cancer related mortality is reduced 30 percent in women who get screened regularly versus those who don’t.”
A recent NCI model showed that the number of American women getting mammograms dropped from 9,000 a week to fewer than 600 (The Washington Post, Jul 19, 2020). And sadly, fewer screenings mean fewer diagnoses and fewer opportunities for early treatment.
Ultimately, Dr. McKellop urges that “people should consider their health outside of Covid as well, and not neglect certain things that we typically didn’t neglect pre-Covid.”