Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients’ annual cancer screening procedures such as mammograms and colonoscopies were canceled. Whether this was due the health system’s decision to cancel elective procedures in the midst of a surge or a patient’s personal decision, Southwell is urging community members to reschedule those life-saving procedures.
“The earlier we find cancer, the greater our chances of treating it effectively,” said Dr. Apurva Shah, an oncologist with the Anita Stewart Oncology Center. “This is especially true with both colon and breast cancer, and that is why annual colonoscopies and annual mammograms are so important. They can help us detect cancer very early on, and we can begin treating it right away.”
The American Cancer Society recommends mammograms once a year for women over 40 of average risk of breast cancer and once a year starting at age 30 for women at a higher risk of breast cancer. A woman’s risk of breast cancer is determined by factors such as family history, a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, and radiation therapy to the chest between the ages of 10 and 30 years. Women with Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, or women with first-degree relatives with one of these syndromes are also at a greater risk.
Those with an average risk of colon cancer should begin annual colon screenings at age 45, and this can be done either through a traditional colonoscopy or a stool-based test that can detect signs of cancer. Individuals are at a higher risk of colorectal cancer if they have a family history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps, a personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), or a personal history of radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area in the past. Those with a higher risk may need to be screened before age 45, be screened more often, and/or get more specific tests.
“We know that people have been delaying their care throughout this pandemic, but it is completely safe to have your annual screenings,” said Shah. “Prolonging screenings like a mammogram or colonoscopy can be detrimental to your health long term.”