From The Tribune staff reports
BIRMINGHAM — Delayed cancer screening during the novel coronavirus pandemic could prove costly, according to the O’Neal Cancer Center at UAB.
“As we continue our vigilance in the fight against the coronavirus, we must also remain mindful of other essential health services, such as cancer screenings and cancer treatments,” said Barry Sleckman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Failure to do so could bring significant consequences for those with cancer and compound health disparities and the ill effects of the pandemic.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented patients from undergoing screenings and hindered access to procedures that could result in late-stage presentations and deaths.
According to the UAB Cancer Center, Cancer deaths in the United States have decreased over the last two decades primarily due to the effectiveness of screening procedures, which detect cancer at its earliest stages. Amid coronavirus, national trends show a dramatic reduction in cancer screenings and participation in clinical trials.
“Even a short-term delay in screening and care can lead to more deaths,” Sleckman said. “A missed diagnosis of cancer now can pose a bigger problem later if it progresses to a later stage, leading to a worse prognosis.”
Patients might now feel torn between going for their medical appointments or protecting against potential COVID-19 exposure.
“We urge patients to continue to undergo age-appropriate cancer screenings and reach out to their health care providers regarding options,” said Monica Baskin, Ph.D., professor in UAB’s Division of Preventive Medicine and associate director for the Cancer Center’s Office for Outreach and Engagement. “The risk of missing cancer treatments or medical appointments must rightfully be weighed against the need to protect against potential COVID-19 exposure. These are discussions that patients should have directly with their health care provider to receive individual guidance.”
The O’Neal Cancer Center remains open and operates with new safety protocols in place for patients and staff. The facility has undergone special cleaning measures and requires social distancing and mask wearing.