‘It’s terrible’: Doctor seeing cancer patients with more advanced cancers as well as younger patients

Novant Health Zimmer Cancer Institute.
Novant Health Zimmer Cancer Institute.(WECT)
Published: Feb. 5, 2023 at 11:43 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Dr. Lucybeth Nieves has worked in the oncology department at Novant Health for about 11 years and she said she is seeing more patients coming in with more advanced cancers, as well as younger patients.

“It’s always better to be preventive and get our necessary screenings done than have to deal with cancer. We’re cancer doctors but we don’t want to have all these patients,” Dr. Nieves said.

She’s urging everyone to keep up with their routine appointments. She said everyone should see their primary care provider for a check up at least once a year and see any suggested specialists as recommended by a doctor.

“We’re really concerned because we’re seeing cancers now on a patient population that is a little younger and it’s because they haven’t had any screenings, they feel good. The mentality is, if I feel good, I don’t need to see a doctor and we need to change that mentality. The mentality is in order to continue being good, I have to get my general checkup with my doctor once per year, so I know what screening I need, so I know that everything is okay,” Dr. Nieves said. “There’s not just cancers, there’s a lot of other medical problems like diabetes, hypertension, you don’t want to figure it out that you have that when you’re about to pass out and need to go to the emergency room. The emergency room is for emergencies. We need, as a community, to go back to your primary care providers to get checkups. It’s just it’s as simple as that.”

Dr. Nieves added that many situations could be avoided if people kept up with regular checkups and screenings.

“If an exam had been done sooner, we could have prevented a lot of the stress and the sequela of not catching something early,” Dr. Nieves said.

Screenings for some things, like a colonoscopy, are now recommended for a younger age than previously recommended.

“Mammograms, our recommendation is to start at age 40. And different medical associations in the US then say between 40 and 50 [years old] you can get the mammogram every other year, or if there’s something that needs to be followed, every year. But after you pass age 50, if you’re a female, you need mammograms. There’s no maybe. Colonoscopies, the age changed to 45 and it depends on what they find in that initial colonoscopy,” Dr. Nieves said. “The other important thing that I think prevention wise is the core consideration of certain vaccines.”

Dr. Nieves is talking about the HPV vaccine.

“We still don’t have the percentage of people receiving the three doses that we want to see. They have been going up through the years in the United States but we don’t have a high 80% or 90% of people getting it and that’s where we want to do it because doing that you will have potential prevention,” Dr. Nieves said. “We see an average of 30 cervical cancer patients per year in this community. And now post COVID we are catching patients that are younger, in their 30s with advanced cervical cancer, and that’s relatively new to us. This was more a cancer that we used to catch on patients on their 40s [or] 50s. But what most patients have in common is that they haven’t had a pelvic exam in years. And they’re young patients that never received the HPV vaccine.”

Dr. Nieves said obvious signs of change that you aren’t expecting should be a red flag and a sign that you need to go see a doctor.

“Anybody in the general population that is having abdominal symptoms, pains that don’t go away, or extreme weight loss, and they don’t have a reason for it, they need to see their primary doctor because it’s not normal, if you’re not changing your diet or your exercise, to be losing weight.”

“It’s terrible, is preventable. We are here as a medical community; we want to keep our community safe and healthy. We feel awful having to deal with advanced cancer because the more advanced your cancer is, the less likely they are to live long term,” Dr. Nieves said.