Americans are skipping out on cancer screenings due to fear of COVID

CBS4 This Morning

While 2020 has been a year dominated by COVID-19, the country also seen a spotlight placed on types of cancer.

Much of the awareness has been fueled by the high-profile cases such as the death of Chadwick Boseman to colorectal cancer or Alex Trebek to pancreatic cancer, or the recent reveal of prostate cancer by Today Show meteorologist Al Roker.

But even as those cases increase awareness about the diseases, doctors say there have also been some negative trends during this pandemic.

A recent survey by the Prevent Cancer Foundation found more than a third of Americans (35%) missed scheduled cancer screenings due to fears over COVID-19.

The same survey  details an additional 43% of Americans have missed medical appointments this year, while about 22% of people who had routine medical appointments or screenings scheduled said they planned to postpone or cancel their appointments.

Dr. Clint Bahler, a urologist with  IU Health, says while some people may believe a missed screening is something that can simply be handled down the road, when it comes to those who have cancer, early diagnosis can completely transform treatment and outcome.

“The goal of cancer is, first, to catch it in time for a cure. But then secondly, the earlier you catch it, the easier the treatment is. The less aggressive a treatment has to be, so that’s always the goal. But now, there’s a competing risk with COVID that’s real, and that you have to take into consideration,” he said.

Bahler also says it’s important for those seeking medical care to keep in mind the efforts the healthcare community is making to isolate COVID patients or those seeking testing from those seeking other medical attention.

“The healthcare systems are trying to separate the folks that are running through COVID from the healthy folks, so that screening is done off-site from the drive-thru for COVID so there is an effort not to mix folks who are sick with COVID vs. those that are there for routine medical care,” Bahler said.  

Bottom line: Bahler says information, specifically early information about any particular case, is one of the best weapons you can arm yourself with. The earlier you identify a problem, the more options you’ll then have, with an increased likelihood of a better outcome.

“As a surgeon that works with prostate cancer, if it’s caught early enough and it’s small the surgery can be less aggressive, easier to heal from and a better quality of life, or quicker to return to a better quality of life,” Bahler said. “So, it makes a big difference to catch it before it’s extended outside the prostate into muscle or nerve tissue, or spread into lymph nodes.”

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