Regular cancer screenings are essential to detecting cancer early – especially for those who are at a high risk. But one of the unfortunate consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that fewer cancer screenings are being performed. This is because many people are trying to protect themselves from COVID-19 by delaying routine, preventive and even time-sensitive healthcare.
In March, the number of cancer screenings declined dramatically and many people are still forgoing needed screenings even as the country reopens. Oncology experts are concerned that this trend may lead to more cancers being diagnosed later and at a slightly higher stage.
“Many times, the earlier cancer is diagnosed the better the chance of a favorable outcome. Early diagnosis may result in fewer treatments and side effects, and can improve your chance for a cure,” said Dr. Alton Sartor, a medical oncologist with Tulane Health System.
Types of cancer screenings
There are screening tests for some types of cancer and none for others. Some of the tests you should have on your radar are:
- Prostate cancer – Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men (after skin cancer) and usually has no symptoms in the early stages. Men of average risk should talk with their doctor about screening starting at age 50.
- Lung cancer – Early-stage lung cancer usually does not have symptoms. If you smoke or have smoked in the past, talk to your doctor about when you should begin lung cancer screening. Generally, if you are between the ages of 55-77 and have a smoking history of more than 20-30 packs a year with smoking cessation of less than 15 years, you will quality for a low dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer.
- Breast cancer – About one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer. Women of average risk ages 40-74 should have a mammogram once a year.
- Cervical cancer – Cervical cancer screening is crucial for women. The five year survival rate for cervical cancer can be higher than 90% when detected early. Women ages 21-29 should have a pap smear every three years and women ages 30-65 should have one every five years.
- Colon cancer – Colorectal cancer rates have been increasing among younger people, making it even more important to stay on top of your screening. If you are at an average risk for colon cancer, screening should begin at 45 years old.
- Skin cancer – When melanoma is detected before it spreads it has a high cure rate. That’s why it is so important to schedule yearly skin exams with your primary care physician or dermatologist.
Helping protect you with enhanced safety measures
Although we are in the midst of a global pandemic, we don’t want your other healthcare needs to fall by the wayside and possibly cause more issues down the road.
“It is important for people who are overdue for screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies begin to schedule an appointment. And if you are due soon, please do not delay. We have enhanced safety measures in place to help protect you,” said Dr. Kendra Harris, a Tulane Health System radiation oncologist.
At Tulane Health System, we are committed to the health and safety of our patients, visitors and colleagues. We continually review our safety protocols as new data becomes available and the pandemic evolves. Keeping you safe and achieving the best possible outcomes is always our goal.
Some of the steps we are taking to help keep you safe are:
- Screening for all patients, visitors and staff before entering any of our facilities.
- Separate care locations for COVID-19 positive patients and those under investigation.
- Protective masks are required for everyone inside our facilities.
- Heightened infection prevention policies including the removal of high-touch items such as magazines.
- Food and drink is prohibited in clinical units.
- Updated visitor policies, including limitations, which have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic.