By Caroline Vandergriff

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Routine cancer screenings plummeted during the height of the pandemic and still haven’t returned to pre-COVID levels, causing physicians to sound the alarm about missed appointments.

“Every time you skip a year, you give breast cancer a chance to grow,” said Dr. Chirag Parghi, the chief medical officer at Solis Mammography.

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In a new survey from the Prevent Cancer Foundation, 90 percent of women engaged in activities like visiting friends, going out to eat and shopping since restrictions were lifted, but only 48 percent have made their annual doctor visit.

“It’s easy for that to slip down the priority list, and the challenge with something like that, is when it slips, you don’t feel any problem at the moment, but it can sneak up on you,” Dr. Parghi said. “Breast cancer doesn’t quarantine.”

Early detection of cancer is key, and why screenings are so critical.

“I’ve got a lot of patients who were really two years past when they were due just based on the timing of things, and that really concerns physicians,” said Dr. Beth Kassanoff-Piper, President of the Dallas County Medical Society.

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Doctors are urging people to get their routine check-ups and annual cancer screenings back on the books as soon as possible.

“We know that there are many, many patients out there right now with undiagnosed breast cancer, cervical cancers, and also colon, prostate, lung, other types of cancers we do screening for,” said Dr. Scott Fleischauer, an oncologist at Texas Health Arlington Memorial. “People are dying from COVID still, but there are a lot more people dying from other medical conditions. If we ignore those medical conditions, then we’re going to see even more unnecessary deaths.”

In the Prevent Cancer Foundation survey, 31 person of the women who did not schedule a breast or cervical screening say they were worried about being exposed to the coronavirus.

“I want to reassure people that it is absolutely safe to go into medical facilities,” Dr. Beth Kassanoff-Piper said. “Doctors’ offices are being very cautious about how they’re screening people for COVID, masks are certainly required.”

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Screening recommendations from the American Cancer Society:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Cervical cancer screening should start at age 25. People under age 25 should not be tested because cervical cancer is rare in this age group.
  • People between the ages of 25 and 65 should get a primary HPV (human papillomavirus) test* done every 5 years.
  • The American Cancer Society recommends that men make an informed decision with a health care provider about whether to be tested for prostate cancer. Starting at age 50, men should talk to a health care provider about the pros and cons of testing so they can decide if testing is the right choice for them. If you are African American or have a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 65, you should have this talk with a health care provider starting at age 45.

Caroline Vandergriff