COLUMBUS – A new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study released this week finds many women skipped breast and cervical cancer screenings in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, reinforcing concerns from experts about the consequences that could have on cancer rates for years to come.
The study found an 87% decline in breast cancer screening tests and an 84% drop in cervical cancer screening tests during April 2020 as compared with the previous 5-year averages for the month through the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
Experts at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center are stressing the importance of early detection and encouraging everyone to get caught up on missed screenings as soon as possible.
As the world looks toward recovery, cancer experts are bracing for a consequence of the pandemic that could impact thousands of lives. The National Cancer Institute estimates that delays in screenings over the past year could account for 10,000 deaths over the next 10 years from breast and colorectal cancers alone. Experts at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) who have experienced their own cancer diagnoses are stressing the importance of early detection and encouraging everyone to get caught up on missed screenings as soon as possible.
“I understand what it’s like to be told, ‘You have cancer,’” said Electra Paskett, PhD, co-leader of the Cancer Control Program and director of the Diversity Enhancement Program at the OSUCCC – James. “I’m living proof of the importance of regular mammograms. If you missed your appointments during the pandemic, don’t worry about being late. The most important thing is that you go and get screened now. It can save your life.”
Paskett has spent her career advocating for cancer prevention, especially in underserved communities where the gap in screenings has been made worse for those hit hard by the economic impacts of COVID-19.
“For them, going to get a mammogram, pap test or a colon screening test is not the first thing on their list. They’re more worried about things like food, employment and childcare,” said Paskett. “We work with them to understand the barriers they face to receiving care, even in the pandemic. Then we help resolve those issues so that they can then go get their screenings.”
Raphael Pollock, MD, PhD director of the OSUCCC and a surgical oncologist at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute also uses his personal diagnosis to emphasize the importance of screenings after he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“Sharing my story with patients has brought me that much closer to the people who have trusted me with their care,” said Pollock. “Screenings allow us to find cancers earlier than ever and initiate treatment when the tumor burden is at its lowest level. Certainly those with a family history or other type of predisposition are going to greatly benefit from getting their screenings in a timely manner.”
Information from The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center—Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.