The time to prioritize your health is now.
By Dr. Frederick Flynt, University Cancer & Blood Center
If we’ve learned anything in the last two years, it’s that the importance of protecting and monitoring your health has never been greater. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a drastic decrease in regular doctor visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means more Georgians may be missing the critical diagnoses and treatments they need to live their best, and healthiest, lives. For us, at University Cancer & Blood Center, this means we’re anticipating and often already confronting the reality of patients with advanced cancer diagnoses more frequently – a concerning reality for physicians and our neighbors alike.
Around the country, doctors and healthcare providers in a myriad of fields are seeing alarming drops in patient visits for screenings and follow-up appointments. These checkups, like mammograms, colonoscopies, and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests, have gone down significantly since the start of 2020 because of delays or cancellations.
These COVID-19-caused decreases stem from two major issues. In the simplest sense, the existence of a global pandemic often supersedes the needs of an individual, meaning hospitals and doctors are, understandably, allocating more time and resources towards COVID-19 patients, often to the detriment of those seeking treatment for something else, particularly cancer. The answer is clear, caring for COVID-19 and maintaining important cancer screenings is paramount to ensuring the health and safety of our entire community.
Additionally, if a patient is able to schedule an appointment, visiting their healthcare provider in the first place can be worrying. The possible exposure to COVID-19 is a risk that may prevent people with pre-existing conditions or other autoimmune deficiencies from making the much-needed trip to see their physician or a specialist. Fortunately, we know the easiest and most effective ways to protect yourself from COVID. Make sure you wear a mask indoors, maintain six feet of social distancing, and get vaccinated if you’re able to. Taking these precautions offers peace of mind and helps get patients back in the office.
According to Cancer Research UK, patients with suspected lung cancer were the least likely to receive an urgent referral throughout the pandemic. At the end of August, the number of people being sent for urgent tests was still only at 60% of pre-lockdown levels. This reduction in referral rates includes fewer patients going to their primary physicians with coughs or breathing problems, and difficulties getting chest X-rays for patients during the pandemic.
Experts warn that delaying these tests for intervention screenings could result in more late-stage diagnoses with worse prognoses. For fast-progressing diseases like lung cancer, a delay in seeking medical attention and, subsequently, diagnosis and treatment can cost months, even years, of life.
At University Cancer & Blood Center, we are passionate and dedicated to treating the whole patient, which means we strongly believe it’s our obligation to inform and encourage the people we encounter to prioritize their overall health, especially in trying times like these. So, please – add it to your calendar, put a note on the fridge, whatever you need to do – be sure to schedule your next wellness appointment as soon as possible.
Because cancer can’t wait, so neither can you.