Med Center Health has joined a nationwide effort to encourage patients to resume appropriate cancer screenings to promote early detection and decrease mortality. Med Center Health is urging people across Southcentral Kentucky to talk with their healthcare providers to resume regular primary care checkups and recommended cancer screenings. This has the potential to lessen the negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on identifying and treating people with cancer.
Throughout the pandemic, many healthcare resources were redirected to combat rising COVID-19 cases and to prevent the spread of the virus. Elective medical procedures, including cancer screenings, were largely put on hold at the onset of the pandemic. The impact was immediate as screening related procedures dropped drastically in March, April and May 2020 according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Estimates also project 35% of Americans missed routine cancer screenings due to COVID-19 related fears and service disruptions. ACS foresees that the pandemic-related reductions in healthcare access and cancer screenings will result in a short-term drop in cancer diagnoses and an eventual corresponding increase in late-stage diagnoses and preventable deaths.
“Simply put, regular cancer screening tests can improve and save lives,” said Dan Davis, M.D., FACS, General Surgeon and Chair of The Medical Center Cancer Committee. “Screening increases the chance of detecting some cancers early, when they may be easier to treat. We’re encouraging everyone in our community to talk to their doctor or a healthcare professional about getting on track with their recommended cancer screenings.”
Screening refers to testing individuals who have no signs or symptoms of disease. It is critical to ensure that patients with signs or symptoms associated with cancer undergo diagnostic evaluation as soon as possible. Breast cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death among women and colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of death among men and women in the U.S., yet nearly one in three people for whom screening is recommended were not up-to-date with screening prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In particular, Med Center Health reported a 44% drop in colonoscopies, a colorectal cancer screening test, when comparing 2019 to 2020. Throughout the Med Center Health system, 3,191 colonoscopies were performed in 2019. However, in 2020, only 1,791 colonoscopies were performed.
“The drop in patients having this vital screening is a significant concern,” said Dr. Davis. “As a specialist who performs colonoscopies, I know firsthand the lifesaving impact this particular screening can have. We can remove precancerous growths during the procedure to prevent cancer. And we can detect cancer at an early stage when treatment is less extensive and more successful.”
The American Cancer Society recommends screening starting at age 45 for individuals who are at average risk for colorectal cancer. Individuals at high risk based on family history or other factors should start earlier. Med Center Health encourages individuals to talk with their doctor about their risk for colorectal cancer and when screening should begin. Individuals who do not have a primary care physician can learn more about Med Center Health primary care providers available throughout Southcentral Kentucky at MedCenterHealth.org/service/primary-care.