With strict COVID restrictions in place, patients delay screenings and treatments at a terrifying rate
By Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
Stage 1 to Stage 4 Cancer – The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown so much of our world into turmoil. Its effects have been far-reaching, from economic to social to medical. We have seen a trickle-down effect happen with this that none of us could have imagined just nine months ago. Job losses leading to loss of health insurance; loss of health insurance leading to delayed doctor’s appointments; delayed appointments leading to adverse health consequences. And this is just one of the many scenarios that have played out in the post-COVID world. With that, let’s take some time today to talk about these delays in healthcare visits, the profound effect that they are having on cancer diagnosis and treatment, and how we can avoid advanced stage cancers – while you wait.
Delaying Healthcare Appointments
There are two types of visits that have seen a dramatic drop in appointments since the beginning of this pandemic: regular cancer screenings and cancer treatment/follow-up visits. We recently talked about the dangers of delaying screenings in “Cancer Screening Even With COVID19 Fear.” You can read more about that by clicking the link, but just to reiterate a scary statistic – these are the drops in screening rates as of Mid-March and without question there are those that have an un-diagnosed fast moving cancer could easily go from a treatable Stage 1 to Stage 4 cancer which would be much more difficult to beat:
- Breast cancer screenings – down 94%
- Colon cancer screenings – down 86%
- Cervical cancer screenings – down 94%
As we have talked about numerous times – the best way to fight cancer is through early detection. When we take away our ability to detect cancers at their earliest stages, we increase the chances of diagnosis at a later stage, as well as decreased survival rates.
Sadly, many current cancer patients are delaying their treatment and/or follow-up visits out of either fear of or closures due to COVID-19. This is happening for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to:
- Closure of normal doctor’s office/relocation of practices
- Unavailability of transportation to/from visits
- Fear of contracting COVID at healthcare institutions
- Inability to procure adequate masks/gloves
It is our greatest hope that you or your loved one with cancer never find themselves in positions such as these, but we want you to know that there is help available. Numerous charities around the globe are making free hand sewn masks available to cancer patients and their loved ones. A quick search online told me about the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance. This amazing group will provide a free mask to the patient and one family member, provided that the patient lives in or receives treatment in Minnesota. A good search string for you to use might be “free masks (cancer type) (your area).” Also, consider calling your treatment team to see if they are willing to mail masks directly to your door. Another resource from our site comes from a law group in Alabama with no restrictions on how many you can order, details on how to order a FREE MASK are here.
We also recommend that you take a look at our page dedicated to Transportation assistance. These groups have been providing help to cancer patients since long before COVID. You can be assured of their professionalism and dedication to keeping you safe during the pandemic.
Should you still have concerns about attending a doctor’s appointment or treatment visit in person, speak to your treatment coordinator about the possibility of home visits? Home healthcare teams can provide a number of procedures in your own residence, drastically reducing the risk of infection. Don’t be shy about asking for what you need – you must be your own greatest advocate!
If you still find yourself in fear of attending appointments, consider asking for a referral to a therapist that offers virtual visits. These wonderful professionals can help guide you through your thoughts, and address fears that you may have.
Just as different people, animals, and even plants grow at different rates, so do different types of cancer. The rate of growth may (and I emphasize may) go into decisions concerning delays of visits. Regardless of your diagnosis and the typical growth rate of your cancer, it is vital that you discuss any modifications to your treatment plan with your cancer care team. While some visits may be able to be delayed or moved to a virtual setting, others such as infusions, radiation treatments, and surgeries must happen. Just because you have a “slow-growing cancer” doesn’t mean that you can skip treatments.
While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the health of millions globally, we here at Cancer Horizons understand the real fear that cancer patients and their loved ones feel in regard to venturing into the public. It is our sincere prayer that you are able to get the treatment that you need during these times, and that while we wait for the world to go back to normal, that your cancer doesn’t become more advanced.
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!!