Cancer knows no boundaries – not even the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Prevent Cancer Foundation, 35 percent of Americans had a cancer screening scheduled during the pandemic and missed it, while 43 percent of American adults have missed routine medical appointments because of COVID-19.
Despite the pandemic, it is important to get regular screenings for cancer. Screenings are important because they can help doctors find and treat several types of cancers early before they cause symptoms, the National Cancer Institute said on their website. “Early detection is important because when abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread and be harder to treat.”
“Treatment for early stage cancer is often more effective and better tolerated than treatment for late stage cancer,” said Joon Lee, MD, a radiation oncologist with Trinity CancerCare Center. “If a cancer is diagnosed in an early stage, you may only need one modality of treatment, such as surgery or radiation therapy.”
However, Dr. Lee added, an advanced stage disease may require a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy – which also means that the side effects and potential complications of treatment may increase. If the cancer is found too late, such as the case when cancer has become metastatic (it has spread from its site of origin to another part of the body), “curing the cancer may no longer be possible, and the goal of treatment will be to palliate any symptoms and preserve or improve quality of life,” Dr. Lee said.
Regular self-exams and screenings can increase your chances of discovering cancer early when treatment is most likely to be successful.
Examples of cancer screenings include:
Breast cancer – mammography, clinical breast examination, breast self-examination, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Cervical cancer – human papillomavirus (HPV) testing, Pap smears
Colorectal cancer – colonoscopies, sigmoidoscopies, fecal occult blood test, double contrast barium enema, and stool DNA tests
Head and neck cancers – general health screening exam
Lung cancer – low-dose helical or spiral computed tomography (CT or CAT) scans
Prostate cancer – digital rectal examination, prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test
Skin cancer – complete skin exam, skin self-examination, dermoscopy
There are many ways to reduce your cancer risk, including refraining from smoking, eating a healthy diet, getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week, and protecting your skin from the sun.
Speak with your healthcare provider about the best cancer screening schedule for you. More information about cancer screening guidelines can also be found on the American Cancer Society’s website (cancer.org).