The COVID-19 pandemic has created a difficult dilemma for many women, including right here in Louisville and Elizabethtown. In normal times, you know the importance of getting your annual check-ups and screenings, including your regular mammogram. You know you should seek out testing promptly when something doesn’t feel right, and you know that catching cancers early is key to better outcomes.
However, with hundreds of thousands of Americans newly diagnosed with COVID-19 each day, we’ve also all been cautioned by public health officials to avoid contact with anyone outside our own household. In the early days of the pandemic, many medical facilities even shut down temporarily to protect their patients and staff from infection.
Medical Experts are Concerned About Patients Delaying Needed Care
This has led many people to delay needed care and recommended screenings, including regular mammograms. In a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation last spring, 48% of Americans said they had skipped or postponed medical care because of the pandemic. Hospitals reported that some patients avoided emergency care even when they were suffering symptoms of stroke or heart attack.
A June study by the CDC found similar results (41% delaying care) and cautioned that “adults could miss opportunities for management of chronic conditions, receipt of routine vaccinations, or early detection of new conditions, which might worsen outcomes.”
In a December story by Louisville’s WHAS, medical specialists expressed concern that breast cancer screenings were still down 85% for the year, even though imaging centers had reopened months ago with heightened safety measures in place. As the report says, “The risk is more cancers discovered at an advanced stage.”
And in an interview with NPR, Dr. Jeffrey Drebin of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York cautioned that mammographies and colonoscopies delayed due to fears of COVID-19 “will create 10,000 additional deaths over the next few years.”
Early Detection of Breast Cancer Improves Outcomes
The American Cancer Society says, “Breast cancer that’s found early, when it’s small and has not spread, is easier to treat successfully. Getting regular screening tests is the most reliable way to find breast cancer early.” A report by the CDC agrees, “Mammography is the most effective method of detecting breast cancer in its earliest and most treatable stage.”
Regular mammograms first became common practice in the mid-1970s, and, since 1989, breast cancer death rates have dropped 40%. And a 2006 study by the Swedish Organised Service Screening Evaluation Group found that regular breast cancer screenings reduced breast cancer mortality by 39%.
Reflecting on the dilemma of getting mammograms during a pandemic, Dr. Therese Bevers, medical director at MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center told AARP, “I think it’s important for women to understand that you are probably more likely to die from a breast cancer diagnosed at a more advanced stage than you are from COVID-19.”
Medical Providers (Including Heartland Imaging) Know How to Protect You From Infection
While it’s true that many medical facilities shut down during the early days of the pandemic, we now know far more about how COVID-19 spreads, and we know how to prevent that spread. Infection control is, after all, nothing new for healthcare professionals. Even in ordinary times, we go to great lengths to prevent the spread of diseases in our clinics. We’ve only had to learn some of the unique ways in which COVID-19 can spread, then integrate extra measures into our usual infection protection practices.
The CDC has released and continually updates guidelines for healthcare facilities to protect their patients and staff from infection. Hospitals and outpatient imaging centers alike are following these guidelines, and many (including Heartland Imaging) are taking additional measures beyond the CDC’s recommendations. These include:
- Disinfecting all surfaces more frequently.
- Staggering patient appointments to reduce the number of people in the waiting room at any one time.
- Pre-screening patients for any symptoms of infection.
- Requiring mask use by all staff and patients.
- Offering virtual registration and check-in for a contactless arrival process.
In short, while the risk of catching COVID-19 can’t be completely eliminated, we’re using our medical expertise to keep that risk very, very low: far lower than the risks of undetected cancers.
The Risks of Undetected Cancer Far Outweigh the Risks of COVID-19
For women in the age ranges for which mammograms are recommended, regular breast cancer screenings make as much sense now as they did before the pandemic. If you would be getting your regular mammogram now if COVID-19 weren’t around, you shouldn’t let the pandemic delay you. The risks of delayed detection of breast cancer are too great.
At Heartland Imaging, we’re doing everything in our power to keep you safe during this difficult time while detecting any breast cancers in their most treatable early stages. If it’s time for your regular mammogram, we hope you’ll schedule your 2D or 3D mammogram today.
Heartland Imaging is a full-service imaging center in Louisville, KY, dedicated to providing consistent, quality, state of the art outpatient imaging services. With locations in Louisville and Elizabethtown, our professionally trained and board-certified radiologists offer affordable medical imaging without compromising expertise or a compassionate experience.