Dr. Shiv Desai
More than a year after the onset of the pandemic, cancer doctors like me are facing a new battle to help our communities overcome not only the coronavirus, but the life-changing and often life-threatening diagnosis of cancer.
As a radiation oncologist who has treated thousands of cancer patients, I know all too well the differences in outcomes that we see for patients who have the disease caught and treated early, compared to patients who come in at a much later stage of the disease.
Many cancers, if caught in time, can be treated well with a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. I see that patients diagnosed by early cancer screenings return to normal life after treatment.
That’s why the latest data on cancer screening appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic is so troubling to me and other cancer specialists.
In the latest AdventHealth survey in six states, more than 30% of respondents reported postponing their annual physical training because of fear of COVID-19, or because they lost income or health insurance during the pandemic.
At least 22% said they delayed their annual mammograms – an important tool in early breast cancer detection – for the same reason, while 23% said they delayed Pap smears to detect cervical cancer. Early detection of breast and cervical cancer can be treated with a high chance of cure and an easier treatment path for patients.
Meanwhile, 18% reported colonoscopies were delayed – a test no one likes to prepare for, but which saves lives every day when tiny pre-cancerous or cancerous polyps can be removed and analyzed during a painless outpatient procedure before turning into the kind of life-threatening cancer . diagnosis that causes patients much more stress and trauma.
During my years in medicine, I’ve seen cancer screenings save lives. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, improvements in cancer screening and treatment led to the greatest improvement in cancer survival we’ve ever seen as a cancer community.
Therefore, it is critical for our community to understand the potential consequences of missing an opportunity for early diagnosis.
While the hope is on the horizon for all of us to move beyond COVID-19 and experience a ‘life back to normal’ while the vaccine is distributed, I fear a wave of later cancer diagnoses that will be more difficult for patients and more. difficult for doctors to treat if we don’t reverse this trend.
In addition to our consumer studies, there is evidence from other analyzes, such as one published in the journal Epic Health Research Network, that suggests that we still haven’t caught up with cancer screening levels in the US before the pandemic triggered an abrupt dip. last year.
We see the same pattern with AdventHealth.
For example, we have found that the number of patients at high risk of developing lung cancer come back for recommended low dose CT scans to detect the disease at an early stage.
Just as we can fight the pandemic with vaccines and precautions, we also have the power to fight cancer through early screening and diagnosis.
Help yourself or someone close to you to get caught up in their impressions. Maybe you will save a life.
Dr. Shiv Desai is a radiation oncologist at AdventHealth Daytona Beach.