Huntsville Hospital reports decline in breast cancer screenings, colonoscopies amid pandemic

Updated: Apr. 15, 2021 at 11:58 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Have you been putting off a doctor’s visit due to the COVID-19 pandemic? If so, you are not alone. Doctors around the nation are reporting a major drop in patients for routine screenings and preventative care.

At Huntsville Hospital, breast cancer screenings were down by about 80 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year. The decline was across all age groups.

According to Caroline Schreeder, a Breast Surgical Oncologist at Huntsville Hospital, the majority of patients were simply scared to show up during the pandemic.

“There has been a lot of fear of going to the hospital because of COVID,” she said. “So I definitely think we are going to see a lot of later cancer diagnoses because patients haven’t been coming in for their screenings.”

As Schreeder mentioned, the main concern is some of those patients may have missed a chance for an early diagnosis. As a result, Schreeder believes there will be a wave of advanced breast cancer next year.

There has been a decline in screenings across all age groups. However, Schreeder noticed the greatest dip in older patients.

“If I just look at my practice, I think there were more people in the older age group that didn’t feel as comfortable coming in, or patients that were elderly,” Schreeder said. “They tended to stay away a lot more than some of the younger patients because of the concern of getting COVID and getting more sick.”

Colonoscopies were also down in 2020, by about 20 percent. The decline in colon cancer screenings is also worrisome, especially considering it’s the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

Schreeder and her colleagues are urging patients to get their screenings done as soon as possible. She wants community members to know, hospitals are safe and preventive care is crucial.

“I encourage patients to come in and get their screenings done because we want to catch the cancer early and we want to make sure that we can treat it accordingly, and the earlier they get screened the better because likely their prognosis is going to be better and their treatment is not going to be as aggressive,” Schreeder said.

The average female who has no family history or genetic abnormality is encouraged to start breast cancer screenings at age 40. However, Schreeder said it’s important to contact your doctor to find out what is best for you.

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