August 2021

A Deadly Delay? The Pandemic’s Effects on Cancer Screenings

Missed salon visits during stay-at-home orders may have led to split ends or gray strands. But COVID-19 caused many people to miss far more critical appointments—including for cancer screenings. And that has health experts concerned about the consequences.

The perils of pausing

Screenings can catch cancer early, before it causes symptoms. Often, that’s when the disease is easier to treat.

Delaying nonemergency care during the pandemic stopped millions of people from getting these checks. Studies show screening rates dropped sharply in spring 2020—in some cases, by more than 90%.

There are already signs that the halt caused harm. In a small survey of radiation oncologists, two-thirds said new patients are arriving with more advanced-stage cancers. What’s more, an analysis from the National Cancer Institute predicts the delays will cause 10,000 more people to die over the next decade from breast and colorectal cancer alone.

The takeaway: Cancer screenings make a big difference in your long-term health. And fear of COVID-19 shouldn’t keep you from getting them.

Get back on schedule

Fortunately, some studies suggest screening rates are returning to normal. But not all those missed tests have yet been made up.

If you had an appointment canceled or postponed, it’s time to rebook. Your provider can help you follow the right cancer screening schedule for you. Ask about recommended screenings for:

  • Breast cancer

  • Cervical cancer

  • Colorectal cancer

  • Lung cancer

Healthcare offices are taking precautions to keep patients safe from COVID-19. These include physical distancing and requiring face masks. If you have questions about infection prevention, ask when you book an appointment.


A Note About Mammograms and COVID-19 Vaccines:  When is the one time it’s OK to wait for your mammogram? When you’ve recently received the COVID-19 vaccine. Some people develop swollen lymph nodes in their necks or armpits post-shot. It’s a normal reaction, but can be mistaken for a sign of breast cancer. So, wait one month after immunization to get this test.


Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2021
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