Doctor’s offices, imaging centers and labs are slowly opening their doors and welcoming back patients. Many offices were closed and appointments, including critical cancer screenings, were cancelled at the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
That’s because, what was safest at the time, was for families and individuals to stay healthy at home and reduce their risk of getting COVID-19. It was also necessary for hospitals to reserve space for sick patients and implement new safety procedures so that people would feel safe to return when the peak of the virus had passed.
These efforts seem to have worked. A study reported in Nature journal estimates that widespread stay-at-home orders prevented 60 million people from getting the virus. And now, Providence has implemented seven safety steps to make sure that you are safe when you visit any of our facilities.
Cancer screenings are essential to keep you healthy. In fact, delaying them due to fears of contracting COVID-19 can actually cause more harm than good.
“It can be confusing to know what’s best and safe after months of stay at home orders,” admits Dr. Michele Carpenter, breast surgical oncologist at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, CA. “However, cancer screenings are essential to keep you healthy. In fact, delaying them due to fears of contracting COVID-19 can actually cause more harm than good. You can be assured that Providence is taking necessary precautions to reduce your risk of COVID exposure when you’re in the office so you can be confident in scheduling your screenings.”
Cancer screenings during COVID-19
Staying up to date on vaccines and well visits can help you stay healthy and well. And cancer screenings may even be arguably more important for your long-term health. Cancer screenings can catch cancer in its earliest stages, when it’s easier to treat and leads to better outcomes. So why have so many people delayed this vital care during the pandemic?
During the height of COVID-19, it was critical to postpone “non-essential” procedures. As the pandemic progressed, our facilities implemented new safety procedures. COVID-19 is rife with uncertainty as infection rates across the nation ebb and flow, but we encourage you to seek care when you need it. Adhering to established safety precautions like wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, we are confident in our ability to keep you safe when you visit our facilities.
If it’s time to schedule your regular cancer screenings, like a mammogram, colonoscopy or prostate exam – and especially if you have any concerning symptoms – don’t delay getting the care you need.
If it’s time to schedule your regular cancer screenings, like a mammogram, colonoscopy or prostate exam – and especially if you have any concerning symptoms – don’t delay getting the care you need. Doctor’s offices, imaging centers and outpatient centers are open and safe to get care. After all, if you’re in good health, skipping these important cancer screenings puts your health at higher risk than being exposed to COVID-19 at the doctor’s office.
Discover why these cancer screenings are so critical to your health.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends these guidelines for getting a mammogram:
- Women age 45 to 54 should get a mammogram every year.
- Women age 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years, or continue yearly screening.
- Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
Other agencies offer different recommendations but ultimately your doctor can recommend a different screening schedule if you are at higher risk of developing breast cancer.
A mammogram is a proven tool in lowering your risk of dying from breast cancer. Pushing back your annual or biannual screening by six months or a year can allow a cancer that could have been caught early to progress – which may mean it can be more difficult to treat.
“Typically, if you are in good health or if you have a higher risk of breast cancer, you shouldn’t delay any screenings. Your doctor can help you assess your risk of COVID-19 and cancer so you know what’s the right thing to do,” reassures Dr. Ibrahim Shalaby, oncologist at Covenant Medical Group.
Colon cancer screenings
Colon cancer is a highly treatable cancer, especially when it’s caught early. A colonoscopy is a proven screening tool to detect polyps in the large intestine before they turn into cancer. Putting off a colonoscopy because you’re concerned about discomfort or your risk of getting COVID-19 is putting you at much higher risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that most individuals should start getting a regular colonoscopy around age 50. You may need a colonoscopy sooner if you are at high risk of developing colorectal cancer or are experiencing troubling symptoms.
You may be at higher risk if you have:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Genetic syndromes
Certain lifestyle factors, including weight, diet and lack of physical activity may also put you at higher risk of developing colon cancer.
Symptoms of colon cancer may include:
- Bloody stools
- Stomach cramps or pains that don’t go away
- Unexplained weight loss
Talk to your doctor if it’s time for your regular colonoscopy or if you’re experiencing any new or troubling symptoms.
Prostate cancer screenings
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer, behind only skin cancer. Fortunately, it is a slow-spreading cancer, which means when caught early it is easy to treat. The best way to catch prostate cancer in its early stages is with regular prostate cancer screenings, which may include:
- Digital rectal exam (DRE): Your physician will insert a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to check for lumps or hard areas on the prostate. Most men have this exam during their annual wellness exam.
- Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test: A blood test will check for levels of a certain protein, called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). Elevated blood PSA levels may indicate you need additional testing for prostate cancer.
The ACS estimates that one in nine men will develop prostate cancer in his lifetime. Some men are at higher risk, including African American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer. All men, regardless of risk, should have a basic screening or conversation about prostate cancer at wellness exams. And if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately:
- Trouble urinating
- Bloody urine or semen
- Erectile dysfunction
- Pain in hips, back or chest
Your doctor can help you understand your risk of developing prostate cancer and the importance of regular prostate cancer screenings – while managing your risk of COVID-19.
Understand your risk of cancer and COVID-19
For most of us, you’re safer – and better off – sticking to routine cancer screenings, even during COVID-19. That’s because healthcare providers, including those of us here at Providence, are taking the necessary steps and precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 for our patients, visitors and families.
Your doctor may still feel that the need for regular cancer screenings outweighs the risk of COVID-19 complications, even if you are in a higher risk category. If you’re not sure what to do, the best place to start is with you a conversation with your doctor.
Your doctor may still feel that the need for regular cancer screenings outweighs the risk of COVID-19 complications, even if you are in a higher risk category. If you’re not sure what to do, the best place to start is with you a conversation with your doctor. The ACS recommends asking your doctor the following questions to assess your risk of COVID-19 compared to your risk of cancer.
- What is my risk for the cancer I am being screened for?
- What is my risk of being exposed to COVID-19 during a cancer screening?
- Does my risk for cancer outweigh my risk of COVID-19 complications?
- How is your office keeping patients, visitors and families safe from COVID-19?
- What happens if I miss a screening?
You can send a message to your provider through MyChart or call their office directly. Or, you can schedule a telehealth visit to discuss your options and make a plan that’s right for your health and safety.
Your safety is our priority
At Providence, we’re doing everything we can to keep you safe, including implementing seven safety steps.
Cancer screenings save lives. Manage your health and request cancer screenings at one of our primary care locations.
Talk to your doctor about how you can stay up to date on screenings and learn what we’re doing to keep you safe when you visit Providence. #COVID19
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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