PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Many are overdue for their cancer screenings and it is leading to later stages of cancer diagnoses, according to a recent study.
A recent study from the American Association for Cancer Research, the largest professional cancer research organization, found more than 10 million cancer screenings were missed during the first months of the pandemic.
Suzanne Elder, senior director of cancer control strategic partnerships at American Cancer Society, said screening rates dropped by 80- 90% at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
“What that told us is that we knew that some number of people were not returning to care and that we had accumulated a backlog of people who did not screen at all during that period of onset when we were in lockdown,” she said.
Elder explained while those numbers are improving, screenings are not yet at pre-pandemic levels.
“Screening rates are down and have been down precipitously at different points during the pandemic,” she said. “Hospital partners are reporting later stage diagnosis, particularly around breast cancer.”
Elder said missed screenings negatively impact patients’ outcomes.
“Not only is the probability for survival decline with later diagnosis, the personal and emotional costs to individuals and their families just mountain to tremendously costly ways. Later stage diagnosis can be invasive and painful and protracted,” she said.
Dr. Madhuri Bajaj, oncologist, and hematologist at Illinois CancerCare said later stages of cancer are more difficult to treat and hard to predict.
“Quality of life becomes more difficult when you have to have ongoing treatments as opposed to a defined amount of treatment and hopefully get the cure,” she said.
She said they are seeing an increased number of advanced-stage cancer patients.
“We are seeing cancers diagnosed at a later stage,” Bajaj said. “When you’re able to diagnose cancer at early stages, it gives you the chance to cure. And we have compromised that ability by not keeping up cancer screenings in a timely fashion.”
Bajaj said she feels powerless when treating a patient with preventable cancer.
“There is a sense of helplessness that you can’t help not feeling when you see patients that are coming in for a type of cancer that we could’ve been able to cure,” she said. “When cancers are diagnosed at a later stage, the survival can go down as low as 10-20% over five years.”
She said it is imperative that everyone catches up on their cancer screenings. It could mean the difference between life and death.
“It’s very important to diagnose these cancers early because our best shot is when we diagnose them at the pre-cancerous stage or early stages,” she said.