ANJ Investigates

39% of adults over 55 who had cancer screening during COVID-19 pandemic missed it, survey finds

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Through the years of the pandemic, the main health concern for many people has been avoiding the COVID-19. But in an effort to protect themselves from the virus, many people have opened themselves up to a higher risk of cancer by not catching it early.

A new study shows a significant delay in routine cancer screenings over the last two years could cost people their lives. The Prevent Cancer Foundation is predicting an uptick in preventable cancer deaths when something as simple as a mammogram or skin check could save a life.

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Nancy Furmag can now call herself a cancer survivor thanks to one of those routine screenings. She said it saved her life because, “there’s no lung cancer or anything in my family, so I wouldn’t even thought about it.”

Thankfully, her doctor did. So what could have been much worse, was instead a straight-forward surgery. Dr. Aakash Modi at Baptist MD Anderson wants more people to be like Nancy. He said a routine screening and early detection to thank for that.

“The goal is to cure the patient of cancer and that’s usually possible when the stage is very early,” Modi said.

At it’s earliest stages, doctors say lung cancer has a 90% to 95% cure rate. That number drops to just 6% once the cancer progresses to stage 4. But according to a survey by the Prevent Cancer Foundation, President and CEO Judy Hoyos said that’s a potentially deadly reality more Americans may face.

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“Unfortunately,” she tells Action News Jax Emily Turner, “we’ve seen a drastic decline in the number of people who are getting their routine medical appointments and cancer screenings over the past two years.”

Nearly two in five adults (39%) over the age of 55 who had an appointment scheduled for a routine screening during the pandemic missed it, the survey found. The number one reason? Fear of contracting COVID.

Routine screenings cover lung cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and cervical or prostate cancers. In Florida, experts say, skin cancer checks should also be a staple. But the longer people wait to get those checks, Hoyos said, the worse a cancer could be by the time, or even if, it’s found.

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When asked if those screenings could be the difference between life and death for some people, Hoyos said, “Absolutely. Absolutely the difference between life and death from some people.”

Which is why, in the wake of pandemic cancellations, MD Anderson said it grew the team that reaches out to patients to schedule and reschedule screenings and put in place strict COVID protocols so patients felt safe coming in. As of February, it says 70% of its lung cancer patients caught it at its early stages, compared to 20% statewide.

Doctors say the best thing you can do for yourself now is to make those appointments. Talk to your primary care provider to find out if those screenings are right for you and don’t delay.

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