Cancer deaths expected to increase due to reduced crucial screenings during the pandemic

Let’s face it. No one really looks forward to annual screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies. And with many of us staying home during the past year, a lot of us never scheduled those crucial screenings.

“We saw our number of colonoscopies dip substantially,” said Dr. Kyle Ward, general surgeon at Mercy Hospital Lebanon. “And unfortunately, we worry that will mean a rise in cancer diagnoses in the next few years.”

In fact, the U.S. National Cancer Institute has announced it’s expecting the country to see 10,000 excess deaths from colon and breast cancer alone in the next 10 years, due to the pandemic.

“Don’t wait any longer,” Dr. Ward said. “The sooner we can find the cancer, the more treatable it is.”

The American Cancer Society recommends most people risk begin getting annual colorectal screening tests at age 45, but check with your doctor. Depending on your family history, whether you’re a smoker or have a condition like irritable bowel syndrome, they may want to begin testing you earlier. 

“I’m not going to pretend that colonoscopies are fun,” Dr. Ward said. “But we know that when we find colorectal cancer early – before it has a chance to spread – the five-year survival rate is about 90 percent. And that statistic is for when a polyp has developed into cancer. If we remove them as soon as we detect them, many never will become cancerous. All that piece of mind is worth a little discomfort.”

While there’s no way to completely prevent cancer, Dr. Ward said a few tweaks in your lifestyle can go a long way toward improving your overall health. 

“It’s always a good idea to eat your fruits and vegetables, get moving and stop smoking. Start by making small changes and work your way up to bigger goals.” 

And, if you don’t have a primary care provider, now is an ideal time to establish care. You may be surprised how quickly you can be seen.

While the goal is to catch any problems before you feel symptoms, there are signs you should watch for that indicate it’s time to see your doctor. 

A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days

A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one

Rectal bleeding with bright red blood

Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black

Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain

Weakness and fatigue

Unintended weight loss

Source: American Cancer Society


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