Dr. Christopher Johansen is a radiologist and breast imagining specialist at the Edith Sanford Breast Center. As such he has witnessed first-hand a troubling trend to delay mammography screening during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, elective screenings were delayed with the blessing of providers who were freeing up staff for the possibility of a spike in COVID-19 patients.
While pandemic conditions persist, Sanford Health has capacity to handle the community’s health care needs, COVID-19 and otherwise. In other words, it’s time to schedule screenings.
“You can markedly impact your risk of dying from breast cancer by getting a screening mammogram,” Dr. Johansen said. “There is some flexibility on your screening mammogram but at the end of the day if you don’t get your screening mammogram, it will not help you decease your risk of dying of breast cancer.”
This advice doesn’t apply exclusively to mammograms.
“It’s important for patients to know that we are taking many precautions to make sure that their experience here at Sanford is completely safe,” Dr. Johansen said. “It is safer than many of the other activities that they may be doing during the day.”
Have you put off a health screening because of the pandemic and not rescheduled it? Many have. Now it’s time to get back on track. The following health screenings are crucial to establishing and maintaining good health and for detecting disease at an early stage.
Colorectal cancer screening
Colorectal cancer is 90% treatable when detected early. Screenings can also find noncancerous colon polyps or colon cancer early, when they can be easily removed or cured. Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cancer killer in America (among men and women when combined).
Patients age 50 and older should be screened every 10 years, or more often as determined by their physician. About 90 percent of people diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50.
“People are thinking ‘Well, I’ll do it next year,’” said Dr. Jason Myrmoe, a primary care physician with Sanford. “Men and women will just follow it up with the next visit. So rather than a month’s delay it could potentially be six months, or a year delay. That’s much longer for that cancer to spread. Then it becomes much more difficult to treat.”
Cervical cancer screening
Cervical cancer is preventable. In addition to screening, HPV vaccination is also encouraged for most patients. There’s nothing right now that can prevent ovarian cancer, but women who make some lifestyle choices can reduce their risk.
Women between ages 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every three years. Women between ages 30 and 65 should have a Pap test plus an HPV test every five years, or a Pap test alone every three years.
“We screen for cancer because we want to identify it and catch it before it becomes a bigger problem than it already is,” Dr. Myrmoe said.
Diabetes is a common example of a chronic disease that needs to be monitored. Are you getting your blood work? And getting your foot exams and your eyes checked on a regular basis?
Telemedicine can be an effective aid in many cases for diabetes and other chronic conditions like hypertension.
After an initial visit for diabetes, for instance, providers can often monitor patients without another face-to-face visit.
“After you’ve seen them in person, patients can do a quick telemedicine visit to talk about insulin management and adjustments and following up after we do the new medication,” Dr. Myrmoe said.
It’s not a screening exactly, but immunizations are a vital part of a preventive health plan, particularly for children. Postponing vaccinations could lead to outbreaks of preventable diseases should too many families put off care.
The vaccination process is often a partner with scheduled well-child visits. Without the visits, vaccines can fall behind.
“We definitely want families to come in,” said Dr. Laura Whittington, a Sanford Health pediatrician. “We want to stay up-to-date on vaccines and we want to make sure that they don’t have chronic health issues, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.”
Many expert groups, including the United States Preventive Services Task Force, recommend mammograms for breast cancer every 1 year to 2 years after age 50. This test accompanies a clinical breast exam.
“Your ability to decrease your risk of dying of breast cancer is directly related to having regular mammography,” Dr. Johansen said. “If you wait on that test you may be okay but your chances of breast cancer developing, and then not being detected, go up. And the longer you wait, the less benefit you get for your mammography.”
Behavioral health screening
Isolation amid pandemic conditions can be difficult to deal with. This is in addition to added stress caused by fear about your own health brought on by the spread of the coronavirus.
These anxieties should not be ignored.
“If we can get treatment sooner rather than later, the odds of getting into a full recovery are much higher than delayed care. … If you had pneumonia and you didn’t go to the hospital and get antibiotics and get that treated, you’re more likely to have a bad outcome. The same thing would stand for depression or anxiety.”
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