Commentary: Do not let fear of the new coronavirus be a reason to avoid getting a mammogram
The stay-at-home orders, cancellations, staff reductions and other changes in healthcare have had effects we are just beginning to measure.
In March alone, compared to averages recorded from 2017-19, medical records data show an alarming drop of more than 90% in routine screenings for breast, cervical and colon cancers.
The declines are certainly connected to public health alerts from trusted institutions, such as the Centers for Disease Control, which urged delaying “non-urgent” procedures or screenings.
Understandably, confusion and caution would cause declines in screenings, but along with delayed screenings comes concern about the greater number of late-stage diagnoses that may occur.
As many hospitals and healthcare systems restart elective procedures and services, how do you know when you should get screened or follow up on an appointment that may have been delayed or reschedule?
Although a mammogram may not be urgent for many women, it is most certainly essential for others. Because guidelines vary as to when to begin mammogram screenings, (some recommend starting at age 40, others at age 45, and one set of guidelines suggests starting them at age 50), the only way to be confident about your breast health is to know your risk factors and work closely with your doctor.
From age to family history to genetic mutations, your risk factors for breast cancer matter. Also consider your COVID-19 risk factors, if you are over age 60 or have underlying health conditions, work closely with your doctor to determine additional safety precautions to take, or when it is safer for you to get screened.
If you have no symptoms, waiting one month to delay a breast health screening should not make a significant clinical difference, but waiting several months certainly could.
If you have no symptoms and are due for a check, don’t hesitate to have a regular screening. However, if you notice symptoms — if something looks or feels different, if you find irregularities in the breast, such as lumps, redness or discharge — consult with your doctor and make a diagnostic appointment immediately.
This pandemic is very real, and we must all do our part to slow the spread and protect ourselves. But breast cancer does not stop in the face of a pandemic.
Breast cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women and five women in Orange County are diagnosed with breast cancer every day.
Mammograms save lives. They are essential, because they can reveal abnormalities that are not detectable clinically, and early detection is key in surviving breast cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society states that when breast cancer is detected early and is in the localized stage, the five-year relative survival rate is 99%.
If you need a mammogram, or notice something “off,” don’t hesitate to make an appointment today. It is safe to come in for mammography screenings as medical facilities are adhering to strict health and safety protocols. In addition to this, appointments may be much easier to schedule now, as entities are beginning to re-open.
If you are under-insured or uninsured and need help finding care, call California’s Cancer Detection Program, Every Woman Counts, at (800) 511-2300 to find resources near you.
You can also call the local Komen OC office at (714) 957-9157
for help navigating local resources.
To all the families and friends who have women you treasure in your life, hold those wonderful ladies accountable for their health and encourage them to get breast health screenings. It’s essential.
Megan Klink is the CEO of Susan G. Komen Orange County.
Dr. January Lopez is director of Breast Imaging at the Hoag Breast Program.
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