WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and people are spending less time in medical facilities for preventative care, the number of undiagnosed and untreated cancers is getting higher.
“More than one-third of U.S. adults failed to receive recommended cancer screening during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to studies cited by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the American Cancer Society,” according to New Hanover Regional Medical Center. “This concerning trend means many cancers are going undiagnosed and untreated. The consequence will be lower chances of survival for some of those who missed the opportunity to detect and treat their cancers earlier.”
For those concerned with COVID-19, there are steps that can be taken to ensure their safety while continuing preventative care, especially now that the vaccine is becoming more available. Last year NHRMC had to decrease the number of patients it was seeing for non-emergency procedures including cancer screenings, but, those protocols have since been loosened.
In Wilmington, cancer rates have been flat Dr. Michael Papagikos, a radiation oncologist with NHRMC said; but, with the growing population of the region and general age group of new residents, that’s not a trend that was expected.
“We’re in an area with a booming population and the population is of the age group that tends to have a high prevalence of cancer so we kind of looked at our numbers and we sort of were flat but this is on top of where we have typically seen year over year growth, so, that being flat compared to a year before likely does represent there being a difference in what we were expected we would see and what we actually saw,” Papagikos said.
When it comes to cancer screening, putting it off for just a few months can be significant.
“It really depends on the cancer and it depends on the stage but what we expect to happen is when you have a six month or even a year delay you’re going to catch cancers at a more advanced stage and even if we can still keep the cure rates the same, oftentimes the treatment needs to be more intense with a more advanced disease,” Papagikos said.
And it isn’t just cancer screenings doctors are asking patients to remember, general checkups and preventative care are important.
“Those annual physical exams and the checking in, the lab work, picking up undiagnosed hypertension, high cholesterol, those are leading causes of heart disease. It’s the overall health check — do not be afraid to go to your doctor be seen, check-in, we want to make sure you’re staying healthy and that you’re getting the appropriate screening you can get so you can live as long of a life as you would like,” Dr. Michelle Fillion, a surgical oncologist with NHRMC said.
One of the effects of the pandemic has been job loss and unemployment which has cost people their healthcare, but there are options for people in those situations who still need preventative care.
“There is a special program called currents of cancer care, we also have the pink ribbon foundation where we can have some sponsored mammograms for people who need it. There are mechanisms in place to get people screenings that they need, just please reach out at least to the hospital where they can look and see who would qualify for those programs,” Fillion said.