To breast cancer screen or not to breast cancer screen? That’s not a question. Get screened now.
Even as COVID-19 continues to show signs of easing across the U.S., women are still skipping important cancer screenings. But experts say it is time to get those appointments back on the books. And the sooner, the better.
So says a recent survey from the Prevent Cancer Foundation that queried women on their physician visits and critical cancer screenings. Almost 25% of women surveyed said it’s been more than 36 months since their last appointment with their OB/GYN or primary care provider.
“That’s three years since many women and those assigned female at birth have had routine cancer screenings,” Jody Hoyos, president and chief operating officer of the Prevent Cancer Foundation told The Whipp. “Early detection saves lives. Missed appointments could mean missed or delayed and later stage diagnoses that may be more difficult to treat.”
Additionally, 28% of all women surveyed did not schedule a breast cancer screening and 26% did not schedule a cervical cancer screening during the pandemic, the survey showed. Of those women who did not schedule routine cancer screenings, 31% said they were worried about COVID-19 exposure.
The Problem Goes Beyond COVID-19
But COVID-19 exposure surely isn’t the only reason women haven’t visited their physicians. Almost 40% of surveyed women noted they were concerned about pain or discomfort during cervical and breast exams. Additionally, most women do not know how often they should be screened for cervical and breast cancer, the survey showed. The information gap is more prevalent among young women and women of color.
“All women should be risk assessed for breast cancer by age 30,” Amy Patel, MD, medical director at The Breast Care Center at Liberty Hospital near Kansas City and assistant professor of radiology at University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, told The Whipp. “If deemed high risk (20% or greater lifetime risk of breast cancer), annual screening mammography is now recommended at age 30 alternating with supplemental screening such as Breast MRI or Ultrasound every six months.”
If before 30, annual breast MRI is recommended from ages 25-29, Patel added. Annual screening mammography is recommended for average risk women (less than 20% lifetime risk) beginning at age 40 and women should continue to do so as long as they are in good health.
“If you do one thing for yourself today, let it be scheduling your annual appointments and routine cancer screenings—it could save your life,” Hoyos told The Whipp.
The Fight to Get Women Screened
There is a nationwide push to get women back to their doctor’s offices for cancer screenings and health care providers are leaving no stone unturned to do so.
“What we are seeing is a substantial number of patients who skipped their mammogram altogether in 2020,” Patel told The Whipp.
Over the past year or so, Patel said her group has used various means to connect with patients including letters and phone calls. To get women screened, they used print, television and social media channels to launch a #ReadyForYou campaign.
Despite the outreach, Patel said her breast center has run into some hiccups. Many women are still not comfortable walking into a hospital or clinic to get screened for fear of the COVID-19 virus. But she said breast care centers across the country are employing the safest measures possible to ensure a comfortable patient experience.
“If you’re nervous or unsure about an appointment, call your doctor’s office to find out what they are doing to make the experience safer and more comfortable for patients,” Hoyos added.
There is encouraging news though—74% of women said they feel more comfortable going to their physician for care now that vaccines are readily available and 65% of women surveyed said they plan to schedule breast and cervical screenings before the new year.
Both Hoyos and Patel agree that there is no time to waste.
“My advice would be that the earliest cancer detection is your best shot at beating breast cancer,” Patel told The Whipp. “For example, if we can detect a breast cancer at 1 centimeter or smaller, your survival probability approaches 100% opposed to a breast cancer that is advanced at 5 centimeter or greater and your survival probability plummets.”