The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more people being diagnosed with cancer in advanced stages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 41% of Americans delayed or avoided medical care, including screenings, because of the pandemic.
The Importance of Routine Cancer Screenings
Routine cancer screenings save lives. Screenings increase the chances of detecting certain cancers early, when there are more treatment options and a better chance for a good outcome. Putting off routine cancer screening is risky because:
- Symptoms of cancer do not usually develop until the disease is at an advanced stage
- Pre-cancerous changes, such as colorectal polyps or abnormal cervical cells, may be missed. Removing polyps or abnormal cells found with screening may prevent cancer from ever developing.
Cancer Screenings During the COVID-19 Pandemic
When COVID-19 cases surged across Wisconsin and the “Safer at Home” order went into effect, hospitals and clinics across the state had to shift their focus to caring for COVID-19 patients along with urgent medical care and procedures that couldn’t be delayed. While clinics and hospitals across the U.S. are once again providing routine health care, cancer screening volumes are still below pre-pandemic levels.
It is a good time to connect with your doctor about wellness and the screenings you need now. Safety precautions are in place at all Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin locations to reduce risk and exposure to COVID-19.
Here’s what you can expect during in-person care:
- All locations require face coverings for patients, visitors and staff.
- A health screening will take place when you arrive, including a temperature screening at hospital locations. Providers and other staff are also screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms.
- Waiting areas and other public spaces are set up to allow for the CDC-recommended six-foot distance from others.
- Examination and procedure rooms are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between each patient.
- Your care team will wear personal protective equipment during your appointment.
- Froedtert Health is requiring staff and providers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1, 2021 or have an approved exemption.
Getting a Cancer Screening
A cancer-related checkup should be part of your regular health exam with your primary care provider. It is important to maintain your relationship with your provider because some cancers are initially asymptomatic and can be discovered at your checkup.
Screening guidelines and recommendations are published by several independent organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Your provider can help you decide which screenings are right for you based on your age, gender, lifestyle and family history.
Depending on your risk factors and personal medical history, your doctor may recommend:
- A mammogram to screen for breast cancer
- A colonoscopy or stool test to screen for colon cancer
- A prostate specific antigen blood test (PSA) to screen for prostate cancer
- A PAP test or HPV test to screen for cervical cancer
- A low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer
Virtual care options to help prevent cancer
- Virtual appointment: The Froedtert & MCW health network offers video visits with a primary care provider. A video visit, like an in-person visit, will include health screening questions. This type of visit can be a helpful reminder of the health screenings you need now and can also serve to assess symptoms or concerns.
- At-home tests: Some at-home screening tests can help detect abnormalities that could lead to a cancer diagnosis. Your provider can help determine if this is right for you.
Lakshmi Kurre, MD, is a family medicine physician with the Froedtert & MCW health network. Dr. Kurre practices at the Froedtert & MCW Westbrook Health Center in Waukesha. She is also the medical director for Froedtert & MCW FastCare®, Workplace and Wellness clinics.