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COVID-19 and Cancer Screenings: Should I Be Screened This Year?

Publication: Bastrop Advertiser, Corsicana Daily Sun, Glen Rose Reporter, Houston Medical Times, Austin Medical Times

Many questions are swirling right now about COVID-19. How can I safely go grocery shopping? How can I best protect myself and my family? And one particularly important question: Should I cancel my cancer screening to avoid the doctor’s office? The answer may surprise you.

While some elective surgeries have been delayed, don’t assume screenings, including mammograms, Pap tests, and colonoscopies, are off the table. Pandemic or not, screenings are the most effective way to identify cancers in their earliest stages – often before you experience symptoms.

According to the World Health Organization, 30% to 50% of all cancers may be preventable. Delaying cancer screenings may lead to detecting cancer at a later stage, requiring a more aggressive and lengthy treatment. Listen to what your body is telling you, understand your personal risk for cancer, and contact your doctor to best navigate cancer screenings during COVID-19.

Be aware of new or unusual symptoms.

Symptoms of concern may include, but are not limited to, unexplained weight loss, changes in bowel and bladder habits, sores that don’t heal, unusual bleeding, and/or a lump. Make an appointment with your doctor immediately if you have noticed these or other symptoms that are unusual to you. And remember that self-exams for breast, skin, and testicular cancers can be done at home. If you find something concerning, immediately alert your doctor, who will direct you to next steps.

Know if you are at heightened risk for cancer.

You can’t inherit cancer, but you can inherit a higher risk for developing it. Factors that determine if a person has a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer include pre-existing conditions, personal health history, and family medical history. For example, hereditary breast and ovarian cancer risk factors include male breast cancer at any age, breast cancer at age 45 or younger, or a relative with a BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 mutation.

Talk to your doctor about the best time for you to be screened.

It’s a simple yet important step to take. According to the American Cancer Society, how long it’s been since you were last screened, how prevalent COVID-19 is in your community, your risk of getting a certain type of cancer, your age, and overall health are all factors your doctor may consider when evaluating the risks and benefits for you to be screened sooner rather than later. What makes sense for you may not make sense for someone else. Your doctor can assess your medical history and individual circumstances to make an informed decision about the best time for you to be screened. What’s more, the ease with which patients can schedule virtual appointments through telemedicine means there is no reason not to reach out.

Remember, the purpose of preventative cancer screenings is to diagnose and treat cancer early. Skipping preventive screenings can adversely affect your long-term health. Don’t let fear of COVID-19 stand in the way of these essential preventative health screenings. Texas Oncology is taking extensive precautions to keep patients safe, as are medical facilities and hospitals across the state. Should a cancer screening lead to a diagnosis, rest assured it can be treated safely using a combination of in-person appointments and telemedicine – because cancer care can’t wait.

Ashwani Agarwal, M.D., is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Corsicana, 301 Hospital Drive in Corsicana, Texas.

Bart Posnik, M.D., is a hematologist and medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Bastrop, 3107 Texas 71 East in Bastrop, Texas.

Meghana Bhandari, M.D., is a hematologist and medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Sugar Land, 1350 First Colony Blvd. in Sugar Land, Texas.

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