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Feb. 3, 2021

Dr. Kashyap Patel Hover image

The coronavirus pandemic has affected every facet of daily lives including health care choices. Studies have shown a significant decrease in the number of people getting cancer screenings. By some count, preventative cancer screenings such as mammograms, colonoscopies and Pap smears, dropped by more than 85 percent in 2020.  

“COVID-19 almost brought the entire health care system to a halt last year. As a result, a lot of people delayed elective procedures,” says Dr. Kashyap Patel, an oncologist and president of the Community Oncology Alliance (COA). 

These screenings could drop again with the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise and some hospitals nearing capacity, he says. 

A patient who detects a lump during a self-breast exam but delays a routine mammogram might find late-stage breast cancer just a few months later, Patel says. That is why it is important to continue with cancer screenings as scheduled where possible.

“If your doctor can get you in now go ahead and get a screening or procedure rather than postponing,” he says. “Many of these types of cancer are treatable if you catch them early on, but it can get more urgent the longer you wait.” 

For anyone feeling unsure of going to a doctor right now for fear of getting COVID-19, Patel says most doctors’ offices are following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to keep patients safe. These guidelines likely require anyone entering to wear a mask and answer screening questions. The risk of getting COVID-19 at a doctor’s office isn’t riskier than other activities, he says. 

“I would also weigh the risk of getting COVID for an early-stage cancer patient versus the risk of dying from advanced cancer. I would lean on the side of catching the cancer early. It can make a difference. Those months can be critical,” he says. 

Another reason to go get a preventative screening now is that research has shown cancer patients are more at-risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19. 

“When we have at our disposal the possibility of early screening and prevention of progression to advance disease, that’s the best time that we can intervene. Between all the confounding factors, the reason to get checked now is a must,” he says. 

If you aren’t sure what preventative screenings to get, talk with your doctor. Screenings vary depending on age, gender, family history and other co-morbidities such as smoking. Common screenings include mammograms, colonoscopies and pap smears for breast cancer, colon cancer and cervical cancer respectively. People who smoke may consider a screening for lung cancer.

The most common type of cancer in the United States is breast cancer, followed by lung cancer and prostate cancer. In South Carolina, lung cancer and breast cancer are the most common types of cancer, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. 

To get more information about cancer and cancer treatments, Patel recommends the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.*

*The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute are independent organizations that provides health information you may find helpful.

This article contains links to third party sites. Those organizations are solely responsible for the contents and privacy policies of those sites.

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Dr. Kashyap Patel is an oncologist and president of the Community Oncology Alliance. 

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