Navigating the healthcare world during the COVID pandemic
By Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
Cancer Screening Even With COVID19 fear -It may be the understatement of the century to say that our world has been turned upside down about a dozen times over the last several months. From mask orders to restaurants closing → reopening → closing again, it can be difficult to know not only what we are allowed to do, but also what we should be doing on a daily basis. One thing that has definitely taken a hit during this pandemic is routine cancer screenings, as well as other routine medical procedures. Let’s take some time to talk today about cancer screenings, and other vital medical services during the COVID pandemic.
Electronic healthcare record data that has been collected and shared by the Epic Health Research Network shows some alarming trends that have taken place since the beginning of the pandemic. The three most common cancer screenings – breast cancer, cervical cancer, and colorectal cancer – have seen precipitous drops in visits. The graph below shows just how far they have dropped.
Indeed, when the rough numbers are examined these are the drops in screening rates as of Mid-March compared to a three-year average:
- Breast cancer screenings – down 94%
- Colon cancer screenings – down 86%
- Cervical cancer screenings – down 94%
Other cancer and general health screenings have decreased as well, but to a lesser degree. As many states lifted the moratoriums on non-essential medical services, many of these numbers recovered – but it remains to be seen what will happen with the most recent spike in COVID cases.
And its not only health screenings that have taken a back seat to COVID – emergency departments have seen drops in the number of people presenting with stroke and heart attack symptoms (although recent data shows that these may be rebounding), and pediatric/childhood vaccination rates dropped to as low as only 44% of the expected volume in March.
It is feared that the declines in these screenings, vital ER visits, and immunizations may put people at increased risk of being diagnosed with more advanced diseases, mortality from strokes and heart attacks, and preventable diseases. All of these put an increased burden on our already taxed healthcare system. So – what’s the answer?
What are we to do?
It’s hard to know what to do in these crazy times. Like I said earlier, it feels like the recommendations change on a daily basis. Do we get out for our annual mammogram, when COVID is running rampant in the community? Is that colonoscopy really that important? My answer to you would be yes – if you need a screening – get it done.
The American Cancer Society has put out some great information to help guide us in our decisions to pursue screenings. I’ll summarize some key points here – but I highly suggest a thorough reading of their info – its good stuff.
- First and foremost – just give your doctor a call. If they are open and seeing patients, you can rest assured that they have protocols in place to protect not only you, but also their staff so that your healthcare routine can continue. I too was worried about this, but a simple call to my gynecologist and radiologist told me that they are open for business. In fact – they are begging people to come in!
- If you are concerned about transmission of COVID and worried about screening, there are some factors to consider. Are you high risk? For us ladies – do you have a history of abnormal pap tests or mammograms, or have your tests always been clean? Are you experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain, or found a lump in your breast? These factors can help you to decide if and when to go in.
- For colon cancer screenings people may want to consider their history of prior tests. Have they been normal, or have polyps been removed in the recent past? How long has it been since your last colonoscopy? Is your physician open to at home screening such as Cologuard (please note, this is not an endorsement, simply an option)? Are you experiencing symptoms such as blood in the stools, or changes in the consistency or frequency of bowel movements?
While these are just a few examples, I want to reiterate a point that I’ve made many times over the last couple of years – listen to your body! While there are sadly, many silent killers out there, in a good majority of cases our body gives us clues. Those changes that I listed above as examples, but also think about changes to your skin, your appetite, your breathing – these are all clues that our bodies give us.
It is our great hope and prayer that not only the sickness, deaths, and damage that have been caused by the novel coronavirus soon receded (and go away!), but that you, our dear friends, continue to monitor your health and continue to engage in routine screenings per the recommendation of your healthcare team. Although these are unprecedented times, with a little knowledge, and guidance from medical professionals, we will make it through these uncharted waters.
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!!