INDIANAPOLIS — Some of the fallout from the early days of the pandemic involves life-saving cancer screenings.
Thousands of people put off procedures as isolation became the norm.
This past spring, elective procedures were largely put on hold to reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19. Hospitals like Franciscan Health saw a huge decline in cancer screenings as well.
Dr. Peter Garrett, who is the medical director of the hospital’s cancer program, says the result has been devastating.
“In my own practice, I’m seeing a lot of cancers that are much more advanced because people just didn’t go to the doctor. In February, March and April, nationally, those screenings were down 90%,” said Dr. Garrett.
There are a number of screenings available, but breast, colon and lung cancer screenings typically are the most sought after. Mammograms start for most women at the age of 45. After the age of 65 to 70, mammography can be spread out every other year if the patient has no history.
Colonoscopy typically start at the age of 50, but since more and more patients are testing positive at younger ages, the time for the baseline is now 45. Skin cancer screenings are very important too.
“The increase of melanoma has been increasing dramatically. We see a lot of basal cell cancers and squamous cell cancer,” said Dr. Garrett. “But melanomas are particularly dangerous, so a skin cancer screening is critical.”
Dr. garrett says anyone who has been a smoker for 30 or more years should be screened. That is done these days with a CT scan.
“There’s not much radiation with that type of screening. They’re very inexpensive, and we pick up little nodules that are very early cancers, and they can be treated quite effectively and cured with surgery.”
According to Dr. Garrett, the American Cancer Society has figured there are about 80,000 cancers that were not diagnosed during the pandemic, and there are 22 million screening tests that did not go on.
Dr. Garrett says patients need not worry about being exposed to COVID-19 during a screening. All of the staff is screened ahead of time. Patients and staff are checked before they come into the hospital. There is also social distancing when appropriate.
“We want to pick up an early cancer,” said Dr. Garrett. “And if we pick up a lung cancer, you’ll get cured. If it’s late, it’s worse than a COVID infection.”