LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 29, 2021) — The University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center is teaming up with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®), the American Cancer Society (ACS) and other leading cancer organizations across the country to endorse the resumption of cancer screening and treatment during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The coalition of 76 organizations has released an open letter reminding the public that cancer still poses a major threat to people’s health, but acting as soon as is safely possible can lead to much better outcomes in the future. The letter examines distressing trends showing a significant drop-off in recommended cancer screening and treatment compared to prior years. This concerning side-effect of the pandemic could lead to a staggering number of preventable cancer deaths over the next ten years and beyond. Oncology experts agree that people should not delay any necessary prevention or care.
Cancer screenings and treatment have continued uninterrupted at Markey throughout the past year, although the cancer center saw a temporary decrease in the number of patients screened in the early weeks of the pandemic. To ensure that more patients had access to preventative care, Markey immediately began ramping up capacity for many cancer screenings while following appropriate COVID-19 guidelines, including mammograms for breast cancer, CT screenings for lung cancer and colonoscopies for colorectal cancer.
“Kentucky continues to rank first in the nation in cancer incidence and death,” said Dr. Mark Evers, director of the UK Markey Cancer Center. “Our state has already been devastated by this disease, and the last thing we want is to see an increase in cancer deaths due to Kentuckians skipping or delaying their cancer screenings or treatment. I strongly encourage all Kentuckians to be vigilant about their health and to talk to their physicians about scheduling regular check-ups and screenings.”
Regular cancer screenings are incredibly important because they save lives by helping physicians detect cancer in its earlier stages.
“When cancer is caught earlier, it is typically easier to treat because there are more options available,” said Dr. Robert W. Carlson, CEO of the NCCN. “When the pandemic first hit the United States, a short delay in care was an appropriate choice for many cancer types. However, the balance of risk has shifted significantly. We now have two impressive vaccines that are being distributed around the world. We also know much more about how to treat and prevent COVID-19. Cancer centers are taking multiple measures to protect patients and staff from COVID-19 and transmission within cancer centers is quite unusual. Meanwhile, far too many cancers are being left to grow unchecked. Postponing cancer care will add tragedy on top of tragedy.”
“It is of the utmost importance that critical cancer screenings resume as soon as safely possible,” said Dr. William G. Cance, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society. “Over the past decade we have seen overall cancer mortality rates drop dramatically. This decline is in large part due to screening’s ability to catch cancers before they spread—when the chances of good outcomes are most likely. We have come too far in our fight against cancer to allow long breaks in vital screening to slow down our progress in saving lives.”
Hospitals and medical systems across the country have already begun vaccinating health care providers among other measures to ensure a safe environment for people receiving cancer screening and treatment. The confirmed use of evidence-based precautions against COVID-19 should provide reassurance against fears of infection during necessary medical care.
The letter points out that researchers around the world have made tremendous strides in controlling cancer in recent years. Leading oncology experts are now asking everyone, in coordination with their health care provider, to resume preventive and prescribed care and contact their doctor right away about any new symptoms or concerns.
At Markey, healthcare providers continue to take COVID-19 seriously and have implemented a number of measure to help keep patients safe:
- Proactive conversations with patients, such as phone screens prior to clinic visits and coordinating care in appropriate areas for those with COVID-19 concerns.
- Ensuring a safe environment with minimized risk, including visitor restrictions, employee screenings and promotion of social distancing.
- Collaborating with infectious disease leadership, including daily communications on the latest news and safety recommendations for the COVID-19 pandemic.
- When appropriate for the individual patient, clinics and services are open to telehealth visits.