female wearing cloth mask

Don’t Delay Cancer Screenings

Why Annual Exams and Regular Screenings are Vital

When the coronavirus pandemic began in early spring, health care systems across the country made necessary adjustments to operations and services. One step included the temporary deferment of non-urgent essential surgeries, primary care and other specialties and diagnostics. Now that many health systems have resumed services, the challenge is helping the public to understand it’s safe – and vital – to pursue emergency care, wellness exams and screening.

The Risk of Delaying Care

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has released information about the pandemic’s impact to cancer care. Reported in the journal Science, the NCI predicts the number of people who will die from breast or colon cancer will increase by as many as 10,000 in the next decade because of the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on cancer care. NCI experts say the pandemic could potentially cause delayed diagnoses of cancer.

Yazhini Vallatharasu, MD, an oncologist and hematologist at the ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center agreed with the NCI’s observation.

“It is vitally important that people follow through with regular cancer screenings, such as colonoscopies, mammograms and skin cancer examinations,” she said. “People who are not having regular checkups or cancer screenings run the risk of missing the development of a new cancer at early stages, which may impact their health for years to come.”

Dr. Vallatharasu stressed that people should not be hesitant to contact their doctor if they have a change in their health status.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and we must learn to manage our health while doing our best to protect ourselves from the virus,” she said. “That also means we should be proactive in our own care. Do not brush off changes in your health and avoid seeing your medical provider because of the pandemic. Continue to be aware of your body, and if you have changes that you question, call your primary care provider and talk with them about your concern.”

Screening Recommendations

Experts recommend speaking with your provider about your risk for cancer and developing the best screening plan for you. The American Cancer Society offers these screening recommendations:

Breast cancer

  • Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
  • Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
  • Some women – because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors – should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is very small.) Talk with a health care provider about your risk for breast cancer and the best screening plan for you.

Colon and rectal cancer and polyps

  • For people at average risk for colorectal cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends starting regular screening at age 45.
  • If you’re in good health, you should continue regular screening through age 75.

Dr. Vallatharasu noted that people should feel confident coming to ThedaCare clinics and hospitals. ThedaCare has gone to great lengths to make facilities safe so we can provide care for patients and families, including:

  • Requiring anyone who enters a ThedaCare facility to wear a mask
  • Asking patients to maintain six feet of distance from all other patients
  • Making sure our physicians, nurses, caregivers, support staff and infectious disease experts continue to stay informed with the latest information and treatment protocols
  • Continuing to care for COVID-19 patients at our respiratory care clinics
  • Asking patients a series of screening questions about any possible exposure to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and if they have any symptoms – cough, fever, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell or problems with vomiting or diarrhea. If those symptoms are present, the appointment should be rescheduled.
  • Checking everyone’s temperature; either via an ear probe or forehead scan, or in some cases, via an oral check
  • Limiting visitors to minimize the risk of exposure

The Path to Recovery

She noted that team members at the Regional Cancer Center work with patients to determine a treatment plan that is best for their specific situation.

“Our care teams are committed to cancer care, with the patient at the center of all care,” said Dr. Vallatharasu. “There is a high level of commitment here at ThedaCare. We are fortunate to have state-of-the-art equipment and physicians who are highly experienced, offering the best care possible. That includes care at the Regional Cancer Center in Appleton and also in Neenah, Oshkosh and our outlying locations in Berlin, New London, Shawano and Waupaca.”

Patients should keep in mind, the first step in a cancer diagnosis often occurs during a regular checkup.

“Many times we see patients after they are referred to us by their primary care provider,” she said. “We encourage people to go in for those yearly visits to ensure any health concerns are addressed.”