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by Dr. C.H, Weaver M.D. updated 1/2022

Four times as many Americans will die from cancer in 2020 than those projected to die from COVID-19.1-3 Disruptions brought by COVID-19 have effected almost all aspects of cancer prevention and treatment yet early detection with well defined screening programs can be safely accomplished during the COVID era and should not be deferred or postponed.4-6 On Feb 1 the American Cancer Society and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network joined together to remind ALL Americans to resume appropriate cancer screenings and treatment to avoid excess deaths;

The Personalized Medicine Foundation and Cancer Connect have launched a resource to support patients in their search for support and information about cancer screening and treatment during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Ask The Experts.... About COVID and Cancer.

The goal of cancer screening is to find disease at early stages in people who are otherwise asymptomatic—before it causes symptoms and when it may be more easily treatable. The COVID pandemic has disrupted normal screening programs and many cancers will go undiagnosed leading to a rise in mortality from cancer - most notably for breast and colon cancers.7-12 It is estimated that the disruption of cancer screening combined with social isolation measures has significantly decreased the early detection of treatable breast, colon, and cervix cancers.13-16

In general, the recommended age guidelines to begin screening tests for a particular disease correspond to the age at which that disease is most likely to develop and become detectable. The frequency of screening tests corresponds to the natural history of the disease.

Screening programs are recommended (or not), for populations as a whole, and it is important to realize that not all screening programs—or recommendations not to screen—apply to every person. People who have a high risk of a particular disease—because of a known genetic predisposition, family history, or an associated disease process—may be recommended to undergo a different regimen of testing compared with persons who are at average risk. Also, not every physician will recommend every known screening test for every suitable patient. Being aware of the current recommended guidelines for cancer screening will encourage you to stay healthy, get regular checkups, and work with your doctor (usually your primary care physician) to get appropriate screening tests.

Screening During COVID-19

  • Don't delay cancer screening - talk to your health care provide to understand how screening is being conducted in your community,.
  • Every community is unique. Depending on the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in your area, policies may differ. Some health care facilities may be open during regular hours, while others may be operating only on a part-time basis. This may impact the availability of time slots for your screening.
  • Understand that alternative testing options may be available. Although mammography, colonoscopy, HPV testing and lung cancer screening require in person visits no-contact options do exist. Fecal occult blood testing or stool DNA testing (Cologuard) for colon cancer requires collecting a stool sample at home and mailing it to your doctor. Skin cancer screening can be achieved with telemedicine by simply taking photos of anything new, changing or unusual skin lesions and sending them to your doctor.

Ask The Experts About COVID and Cancer

Screening Recommendations for Cancer

Cancer screening guidelines are well defined for the early detection of several types of cancer. As researchers better define the genetics of cancer simple blood tests will likely begin to replace current protocols and early detection will begin to expand to hard to detect cancers.

For example pancreatic cancer has been a recalcitrant disease to treat, as most patients are diagnosed with advanced disease and not amenable to surgical resection. As has been the case with other cancers such as breast and colon cancer, early detection is key to improved outcomes. It is time for increased attention to new, more effective strategies for early detection of pancreatic cancer and to better determine who is at elevated risk. Learn more about advances in the early detection of pancreatic cancer.

Cervical Cancer

Age 25-65, women should undergo human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA test every 5 years. PAP test no longer recommended. Learn more here....

Breast Cancer

Several organizations provide screening guidelines that are often in conflict with each other leading to confusion but in general...

Age 30

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  • Women should be aware of the look and feel of their breasts and report any changes to a care provider as soon as possible. Breast self-exams may help women become familiar with their breasts but are not recommended as a screening tool.

Age 40

  • Women at average risk should have annual mammograms and continuing for as long as the woman is in good health. Recommendations are undergoing a bit of controversy right now-make sure you discuss with your doctor. ACS guidelines.....

Colon Cancer

Age 45, people of average risk should undergo the following:

  • Fecal occult blood test (home multiple sample kit) annually
  • Fecal immunochemical test (home multiple sample kit) annually Or one of these tests: Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years Colonoscopy every 10 years Double contrast barium enema every five years Computed tomography colonography every five years Learn more about colonoscopy screening for colon cancer. In depth guidelines for colon cancer screening for average and higher risk individuals.

Skin Cancer

  • Regular examination of the skin by all people (as well as by their doctor during checkups) will increase the chance of finding skin cancers early. Monthly self-examination of skin will make people familiar with their own natural pattern of moles and birthmarks and help them find any change in skin lesions, which should be reported to a doctor. Regular skin checks by a doctor are indicated for people who already had skin cancer. Take control and self screen for skin cancer.

Lung Cancer

  • Individuals at risk of developing lung cancer should undergo regular evaluation with low dose CT scanning. Learn more.

Oral Cancers

  • Visual screening for oral cancers should be considered in high risk individuals. Learn more ..



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