COVID-19 creating delay in cancer diagnosis

Number of patients getting cancer screening are declining

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —

Kristen Allen could be described as a wanderer. Her travels have taken her to Southeast Asia, Europe, Iceland, and even Turkey. However, the coronavirus forced this explorer to stay in Florida for the time being. It also halted her mammogram appointment.

“When we canceled that appointment, it was kind of like forgotten about,” Allen said. “I don’t know, probably at some point, the beginning of May, I felt like, ‘oh gosh I should call and make an appointment.’”

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Allen came back in May, and it’s a good thing she did. She had an aggressive form of stage 1 breast cancer.

“I had no issues. I didn’t feel any lumps, so I was kind of the perfect person to put it off,” Allen said. “I don’t even like to think of what would have been.”

Since then, she’s had four rounds of chemotherapy and she’s set to start radiation soon.

“By her being able to identify the cancer before it spread anywhere else, she has a really high level of ability to beat this cancer and be there for her family and children,” Dr. Ankit Desai said. The plastic surgeon and Jacksonville native does reconstructive surgery for Baptist MD Anderson. “Your purpose of mammograms and screening is to detect the cancer as early as possible. The earlier detected the greater chance of cure.”

Desai said many people’s mammograms were canceled in March and April.

In fact, Baptist Health was not able to do screening mammograms from the end of March up until May 1, according to a hospital representative. However, Baptist Health could still do diagnostics for those who had a finding on their first mammogram.

During that same time frame in 2019, they performed 4,947 screening mammograms systemwide.

As soon as the health system was able to resume, they noticed an uptick in patients. From June until September, Baptist Health has been trending above last year’s numbers in the total number of screening mammograms.

Mammograms fell 77% at the height of the pandemic. As of last month, it’s still down by 23% according to the Health Care Cost Institute.

Doctors recommend that you get a mammogram at the age of 40 unless you are considered high risk or have a family history. Allen received one as a precaution, after having a breast augmentation 10 years prior.

If you don’t qualify for a mammogram right now, there are other ways to screen for cancer, including breast checks and visiting your OB/GYN regularly. The National Breast Cancer Foundation has a full list (https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/about-breast-cancer/early-detection/breast-cancer-resources)

As for Allen, she’s encouraging everyone who missed their mammogram back in March and April to reschedule now.

“I’m definitely one of the lucky ones,” Allen said.