The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many elective procedures being put on hold, and this has led to a substantial decline in cancer screening. As your regular facility for health care returns to providing cancer screening, it’s important that it is done as safely as possible. Learn how you can talk to your doctor and what steps you can take to plan a safe return to regular cancer screening in Cancer Screening During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Cancer Screening During the COVID-19 Pandemic
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, elective medical procedures, including cancer screening, were largely put on hold to prioritize urgent needs and reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in healthcare settings. One consequence of this has been a substantial decline in cancer screening.
As states and other authorities re-open businesses and ease restrictions, many healthcare facilities are starting to offer elective procedures again, including cancer screening. Restarting cancer screening requires careful consideration of the risks and benefits of screening, along with ensuring safety for both patients and healthcare personnel.
Decisions about restarting screening depend on many factors, and they may not be the same for every person. They will likely vary by community while the pandemic continues.
Regular cancer screening is still important
If you had an appointment for screening that was postponed or canceled, talk to your healthcare team about when to reschedule. Your provider can discuss balancing the risks and benefits of being screened now or postponing for a later date, taking into account your personal and family history, other risk factors, and the timing of your last screening test.
It is also important to keep in mind that we’re focusing here on cancer screening. Screening tests look for cancer in people who don’t have symptoms. These tests are different from tests your doctor might order if you have symptoms that could be from cancer. If you have signs or symptoms that might be from cancer, for instance, a lump in the breast or blood in the stool, you should discuss this with your provider right away, as you will need exams or tests that evaluate those particular signs and symptoms.
Screening needs to be done safely
As your regular facility for health care returns to providing cancer screening, it’s important that it is done as safely as possible. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommendations for healthcare facilities to reduce the risk of COVID transmission:
Screening centers should be available to answer questions from patients via phone or web portal before and/or after the screening procedure.
Patients should be pre-screened for COVID-related symptoms before screening appointments.
Scheduling of appointments should allow for physical distancing between patients, and longer appointment times, if needed, to avoid crowding in waiting rooms and patient care areas.
There should be limitations on visitors other than patients and/or their caregivers into the screening facility.
If not done in front of you, the screening center should be able to tell you how often equipment and surfaces are disinfected and cleaned.
Everyone, including patients and staff, should wear a face covering or face mask, where appropriate. There should be frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer by staff, patients, and visitors.
We hope this information provides useful guidance as you consider when and how to safely resume cancer screening. Every community has its own unique situation and will need to rely on the judgment of the health care professionals and leaders in the community to make the best decisions possible.
This information is intended to help you understand the importance of returning to regular cancer screening as soon as it is safe to do so. At the same time, it’s important to remember that if you have signs or symptoms of cancer, or if you have additional risk factors that put you in a high-risk group, you should consult your doctor or a health provider right away for guidance.
Dr. Zheng has received her COVID vaccines