When COVID hit the United States, medical providers had one goal in mind: keep the largest number of people safe and healthy. We took a variety of steps, including halting elective procedures, doing as much telemedicine as possible, and postponing annual screenings and check-ups. These steps were responsible and prudent because we were only going to be in this situation for a month or two. Right?
Then we learned more… and more time passed, more cases, more time, more spikes… and now even more time. It became apparent that while the pause in non-emergency medical visits and screenings was appropriate at the onset, we were going to have to figure out a different path forward for the long-term. Remember our goal, which is to keep the greatest number of people safe and healthy. In order to accomplish that, we needed to get our cancer screenings back up and running. Doctors can’t treat undiagnosed cancer.
The National Cancer Institute predicts that there will be over 10,000 additional deaths from colon and breast cancer due to the temporary COVID-19 shutdown. As a radiation oncologist, I fear that many people who postponed their screenings during the shutdown will not reschedule.
The cancer diagnoses that we are not catching now will still come to light, but at a later stage and with worse prognoses. If caught in its early stages, several types of cancer, such as colon, prostate, and some types of breast cancer, are curable with wonderful quality-of-life outcomes.
Right now, you can safely get your needed screenings. At Ackerman Cancer Center, and many other facilities in Northeast Florida, we exceed CDC guidelines. When choosing where to get your screenings, look for a facility with the following COVID protocols: pre-screening everyone who comes in our building for COVID; limiting the number of guests each patient can have; mask requirements; and frequent sanitation of equipment, preferably done in front of you.
For the first time in years, the American Cancer Society expects cancer deaths to rise instead of drop. Don’t let one healthcare crisis become another. Look at your calendar, review the recommendations for your age group, and stay on top of necessary screenings and check-ups.
Scot Ackerman, M.D. is Medical Director of Ackerman Cancer Center in Fernandina Beach. For more information, please call (904) 277-2700.