Cancer specialists worried about screenings getting deferred due to COVID-19

Ben Henry/KSTP-TV
Updated: July 12, 2020 10:10 AM

Cancer specialists are starting to worry about an increase in more severe cancer diagnoses and deaths relating to cancer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Simply put, fewer people have been screened for certain types of cancer since the global pandemic began. The biggest worry is not catching cancer early enough for successful treatment.

“What we saw is about 13,000 mammograms canceled,” said Dr. Natasha Rueth, Allina Health Cancer Institute’s medical director.

Rueth says some cancellations had to happen as parts of our healthcare system were put on hold, but other reasons include a fear of community spread of COVID-19 and more people going on vacation during the summer.

She said it’s not just mammograms, but colonoscopies have been canceled too, both at a rate that has reason for concern. It hasn’t been easy. There was a time when elective surgeries and most care were not allowed in Minnesota.

Some were screened right on the bubble of the shutdowns, which created more uneasiness in an already tough time. That’s the story for May Jo Nye of Minneapolis.

Nye was diagnosed with breast cancer in both breasts right as the stay-at-home orders were starting. Fortunately, after what some would considered a frustrating amount of rescheduling, Mary Jo was able to have a successful surgery and is now cancer-free.

Looking at the "big picture," Nye says those frustrations are minimal to what could have been.

“Don’t forgo any procedures — mammograms, colonoscopies, ultrasounds — whatever the case may be to advocate for your health,” Nye said. “Because if you look at the flipside, if you put all that off, who knows what could happen on the other side.”

Dr. Rueth said if you think something is off, see a doctor — saying the healthcare system is ready to care for people in the midst of the pandemic.

Visit Allina Health's website for more information on cancer care services.


Ben Henry/KSTP-TV

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