Oncologists say it’s essential to keep up with preventive screenings.
Over the last 25 years, cancer death rates have dropped 25% in the United States, largely due to screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies, which allow for early detection and action. But after COVID-19 became a national emergency in March 2020, many patients put their cancer screenings on hold. This caused a major disruption in both treatment and preventive measures and could have serious repercussions. Delays in screenings may lead to more malignant tumors, advanced stages of cancer, and possibly death.
In spring 2020, when everything shut down, routine screenings took a sharp decline, and elective procedures were postponed or deferred. It seemed like a temporary disruption at first, but now it has become more long-term. The cancers most threatened by this disruption are those with effective screening protocols in place, such as breast, colon, lung, and cervical cancers.
Take note of these national trends by the numbers (according to data from CancerNetwork.com, JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics, OncLive.com):
Last Spring and Summer 2020:
• Breast cancer screenings dropped nearly 90%
• Colorectal screenings dropped around 85%
• Prostate cancer screenings dropped roughly 74%
• Lung cancer screenings dropped 56%
Additionally, cancer-related hospitalizations dropped 30 to 40% in the first half of 2020, while chemotherapy treatments dipped 20 to 30% through June.
What does all this mean in terms of cancer deaths? The numbers tell a disturbing story for 2025:
• Deaths from breast cancer will rise 10%
• Deaths from colorectal cancer will rise 15%
• Deaths from lung cancer will rise 5%
Silver Linings for 2021
Mirroring national trends, we’ve seen a great rebound in screenings over the second half of 2020. Having adapted to new protocols, hospitals are extremely safe places for routine care, even for higher-risk immunocompromised patients. Oncologists are always weighing risks and benefits of treatments for patients.
We’re glad that patients are now returning for routine screenings, and we’re encouraging any patient who didn’t get screened to catch up. To find out more, see 3 Screenings Men Should Never Skip and Screenings to Help Women Protect Their Health at Every Age.