Cancer and other life-threatening health conditions haven't stopped for COVID-19. Now, worrisome modeling should serve as a call to Americans that they need to make that doctor or screening appointment which they postponed earlier in the year.
A National Cancer Institute model, examining breast and colorectal cancers, predicts more than 10,000 deaths in the U.S. over the next decade due to pandemic-related delays in diagnosis and care. The modeling suggests much of this increase will be felt quickly – in the next two years. Models created by the medical research company IQVIA predict even worse: Delayed diagnoses of an estimated 36,000 breast cancers and 19,000 colorectal cancers due to COVID-19's scrambling of routine medical care.
Delayed diagnoses lead to identification of disease at a later stage. With more advanced disease, the prognosis usually isn't as good and the care needed is more expensive. Radiologists, who identify and diagnose diseases, are helping to sound the alarm to remind patients about how important it is to reschedule well-visits, screenings and follow-up appointments. While it's imperative we all follow public guidelines to protect against contracting and spreading COVID-19, the risks posed by a delayed diagnosis often outweigh the risk of contracting COVID-19 at a doctor's office that has implemented appropriate measures to protect you and others.
Physicians have spent the last several months preparing their clinics and offices for caring for patients during the pandemic. Radiology practices like RAI are following expert guidelines, including American College of Radiology (ACR) and CDC recommendations, regarding infection control procedures. This includes spacing out the time between patient visits to properly clean and disinfect equipment and rooms. Following expert guidelines greatly reduces the risk of contracting COVID-19.
It's smart to play it safe, but delaying an exam won't make cancer or other life threatening illness go away. It could even make the road to recovery more challenging. So, how should patients prepare when rescheduling a mammogram, colonoscopy or annual screening exam? Here are five tips to safely return to care:
- Check with your provider about their COVID-safety protocols so you know what to expect at your next visit.
- Take your temperature and wash your hands before you leave the house; wear a mask; avoid touching your face, especially your nose or eyes.
- Show up on time for your appointment, not early. Your care team may have another appointment or the exam room may be getting cleaned for your appointment.
- Avoid touching surfaces and try to remain six feet apart from others in the office.
- Limit guests. Take no more than one family member or friend with you.
- Practice patience. Doctors are spacing out appointments to allow for proper equipment and room cleaning, which requires more time.
While these safety precautions may take some time to adjust to, playing it safe means following guidelines. Patients must get back on offense against diseases like cancer where early diagnosis is crucial.