Delaying cancer screening tests during COVID puts patients at risk

Delayed Cancer Screenings in COVID-19 Era Put Patients at Risk

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When the COVID-19 pandemic began, life as we knew it came to an abrupt halt. That included routine healthcare visits, as many providers postponed appointments and cancer screening tests that were deemed “non-essential.”

In the United States alone, an estimated 22 million cancer screening tests were disrupted by COVID-19 from April to June 2020. As a result, about 80,000 patients could be at risk for delayed or missed diagnoses.

The IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science recently published these estimates as part of its report on shifts in healthcare demand, delivery and care during the COVID-19 era. In this article, we’ll look at how diagnostic procedures for some of the most common cancers are impacted. We’ll also share some tips to help you move forward with your cancer-related care in a timely and safe manner.

DRAMATIC DROP IN DIAGNOSTIC TESTS

The IQVIA report looked at insurance claims for five of the most common cancer screening tests – breast, cervical, colorectal, lung, and prostate – and found a significant reduction across the board as a result of COVID-19.

“Claim codes for diagnostics commonly used to screen and monitor for cancer were generally stable from March 2019 through February 2020,” noted the report’s authors. “However, as the country prepared for COVID by canceling/postponing non-essential visits, procedure codes throughout March declined dramatically, coming to a near stand-still for some tests by the first week in April.”

The number of cancer screenings during COVID dropped by up to 90%

As you can see in the chart above, colorectal cancer screenings took the biggest hit. In the week ending April 10, 2020, claims filed for colonoscopies dropped by 90%. Mammograms for breast cancer screening saw a similar decline (87%), as did pap smears for cervical cancer screening (83%).

The number of CT scans related to lung cancer and PSA tests for prostate cancer was also lower, but the reductions weren’t quite as dramatic.

While PSA tests did drop by 60%, some physicians may have opted to continue with scheduled screenings in order to adhere to the patient’s testing plan. This is because the severity of a potential prostate tumor is often measured by how much time it takes for the PSA level to double.

The report’s authors also reasoned that the lower rate of disruption for CT scans (a 39% reduction) could be due to the generally more serious nature of lung cancer. Physicians may have also been trying to rule out COVID-related issues in the lungs for some patients.

RISK OF MISSED CANCER SCREENINGS DURING COVID ERA

Using the screening data from early April, the IQVIA report went on to project how many patients could miss a diagnostic procedure between April and June 2020, and the risk that would create for potentially delayed or missed diagnoses.

More than 80,000 patients may have delayed or missed diagnoses because of delayed cancer screenings during COVID

In the chart above, you can see the estimated reduction in the number of tests ranges from 30 to 72 percent, depending on the cancer type. As a result, COVID-19 potentially disrupted more than 22 million cancer screening tests overall. That included an astonishing 13.2 million fewer pap smears and 7.2 million fewer mammograms over the three-month period.

It’s important to note that not all abnormal test results lead to a cancer diagnosis. With the rate of positive cancer diagnosis per test in mind, the report’s authors determined the reduction in screenings could put more than 80,000 patients at risk for a delayed or missed diagnosis. Breast cancer is estimated to be the most impacted (36,000 patients), followed by prostate cancer (22,600) and colorectal cancer (18,800).

A delayed diagnosis could ultimately lead to a more advanced cancer when it is diagnosed. Not only will that have negative impacts on a patient’s prognosis, but it could also have long-term effects on our healthcare system.

“Current excess healthcare capacity to catch-up on missed tests and associated cancer treatments would require providers to shift priorities to make time and space in schedules and facilities,” said the IQVIA report authors. “An immediate return to previous volumes of testing and care will require substantial reallocation of resources and likely last months after social distancing rules are relaxed.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO MOVE FORWARD WITH YOUR CARE

Provision CARES Proton Therapy is a strong advocate for timely cancer screening and treatment. As such, we have developed a list of guidelines to help you move forward with your care and avoid putting yourself at higher risk.

First and foremost, we encourage you to call your primary care physician and discuss any regularly scheduled procedures like a mammogram, pap smear, colonoscopy or PSA test. Based on your medical history, your provider can help you determine whether it’s appropriate to continue with your cancer screening during the COVID-19 pandemic or delay it.

If you do receive a cancer diagnosis, we can help you move forward with your cancer care in a timely and safe manner. Depending on your diagnosis, it may be appropriate to delay treatment until the COVID risk is lowered. However, some patients may be better off beginning their cancer treatment immediately. As a first step after your diagnosis, we recommend calling the Provision treatment location nearest you to speak with one of our Cancer Care Experts. They can discuss your specific diagnosis and, if necessary, schedule you for a consultation with one of our physicians.

During your consultation, you’ll be able to meet with one of our board-certified Radiation Oncologists. They will be able to answer any questions you may have about your diagnosis and review all of your treatment options, as well as the possible side effects of each.

Provision offers both telehealth and in-person consultations. Telehealth consultations allow you to speak directly with a physician from the comfort and safety of your own home.

Some patients may benefit more from an in-person consultation. We encourage you to follow the CDC’s guidelines for leaving your house for doctor visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. When you arrive at our facility, rest assured we have established our own standards of excellence to keep our patients, visitors and employees safe. All Provision cancer centers are stand-alone medical facilities, which helps limit your exposure to others compared to a busier hospital setting.

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As part of the Provision CARES Cancer Network, Provision CARES Proton Therapy has locations in Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn. If you or someone you know has cancer, we encourage you to call a Provision treatment center near you. One of our Cancer Care Experts can speak to you about your specific diagnosis and help determine if proton therapy is right for you.

 

CDC guidelines for visiting doctor during coronavirus pandemic

CDC announces guidelines for safely visiting your doctor during coronavirus pandemic

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced new guidelines to help you stay safe when visiting your doctor or getting a prescription filled. In this article, we’ll outline some of the most important takeaways to help you stay safe during healthcare-related trips. More specifically, we’ll also share how those tips can be applied for people who are dealing with cancer.

As local governments loosen coronavirus restrictions and more businesses re-open their doors, it’s important for people to continue practicing preventive actions in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. These new guidelines from the CDC are designed to help you make an informed decision on when it’s appropriate to venture out of your home, and how to protect yourself and others when you do decide to go out.

THREE KEY TAKEAWAYS FOR HEALTHCARE-RELATED TRIPS

1. Consider telehealth/touchless options

The first key takeaway from the CDC guidelines on visiting your doctor is to find out whether your healthcare provider offers any telehealth options. Many doctor’s offices have telehealth programs that allow you to do a virtual video chat with a physician. It may also be possible to speak with your healthcare provider through secure communication lines using telephone or email.

If you need to pick up a prescription, check to see if your pharmacy offers touchless services like drive-thru, curbside pickup or mail-order delivery. You can also ask your doctor if it’s safe for them to prescribe a larger supply than normal, so you won’t need to refill the prescription as often.

For cancer patients in particular, we are strong advocates for moving forward with your care in a timely and safe manner. In some cases, this may be as simple as a phone call to your physician, who determines that a delay in treatment is appropriate. Others may need to avoid delays in cancer treatment. Provision CARES Proton Therapy offers both in-person and telehealth consultations to help cancer patients make an informed decision about the timeliness of their treatment.

To learn more about Provision’s telehealth program, please read our Telehealth Frequently Asked Questions.

2. Practice preventive actions

If you decide to visit your doctor in person, there a few simple things you can do while out in public to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. These include washing your hands often, social distancing, and covering your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover. We encourage you to review the CDC’s guidelines on face coverings to better understand when and how to wear them, as well as which groups of people should not wear them.

All Provision CARES Proton Therapy centers have implemented preventive safety measures to protect the health and safety of our patients, employees and visitors. When you come to Provision for an in-person consultation, treatment or follow-up, you can rest assured we are doing everything we can to keep you safe. This includes limiting the number of visitors allowed with each patient and pre-screening everyone who enters our facilities.

To learn more about our pandemic response, please read our COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions.

3. Keep a few items handy

When visiting your doctor, the CDC guidelines suggest having the following items on hand:

  • Cloth face covering
  • Tissues (to help you avoid touching your face)
  • Hand sanitizer (should contain at least 60% alcohol)

For the safety of patients, employees and visitors, many doctor’s offices now require you to wear a face covering inside their facilities. This is true for all Provision CARES Proton Therapy centers. If you do not have your own face covering, we will be happy to provide one for you upon arrival. As an added precaution and to encourage frequent handwashing, we have also increased monitoring and refilling of soap and hand sanitizer dispensers throughout our centers.

TIPS FOR OTHER ESSENTIAL TRIPS

Aside from medical visits, there are plenty of other reasons to leave your home. Whether it’s running errands, dining out, or going to the park, the CDC has guidelines for just about every situation.

Most importantly, if you are sick or have symptoms of COVID-19, which include a fever, cough or shortness of break, the CDC recommends you stay home and avoid in-person contact with others. Try taking advantage of delivery services and online options for common errands like grocery shopping, take-out dining or banking.

Some of the CDC’s other guidelines are universal no matter what your reason for going out, including wearing a cloth face covering, social distancing, using hand sanitizer while out and about, and washing your hands when you get home.

For more specific guidelines for certain situations, please visit the links below:

Running Errands: This set of guidelines includes grocery shopping, deliveries and takeout, banking and getting gas.

Personal and Social Activities: These guidelines cover dining out, hosting a gathering, using a fitness center, going to a salon, visiting a library, and traveling overnight.

Using Transportation: This includes guidelines for the use of public transit, rideshare/taxis, and personal vehicles.

Visiting Parks and Recreational Facilities: This section has some helpful Do’s and Don’ts if you plan to visit national, state, or local parks, as well as beaches, pools, and playgrounds.

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As part of the Provision CARES Cancer Network, Provision CARES Proton Therapy has locations in Knoxville, Tenn. and Nashville, Tenn. If you or someone you know has cancer, we encourage you to call a treatment center near you. One of our Cancer Care Experts can speak to you about your specific diagnosis and help determine if proton therapy may be right for you.

 

A message from Provision leadership regarding COVID-19 (coronavirus)

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In response to the presence of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Tennessee, effective Friday, March 13, Provision is taking the following preventative measures to protect the health of our patients, employees, and visitors:

  1. All patients are asked to bring no more than one visitor or caregiver with them to our center.
  2. Upon arrival at any of our centers, patients and visitors will be asked to complete a brief COVID-19 screening questionnaire.
  3. Visitors and/or caregivers that are experiencing any symptoms associated with COVID-19 or have traveled to/from any area that has been significantly impacted by COVID-19 will be asked to leave the building.
  4. All non-essential gatherings have been discontinued for the foreseeable future, including chat sessions, patient luncheons, and facility tours.
  5. More comprehensive cleaning and disinfection procedures have been implemented at all of our facilities.
  6. All patients, visitors, and employees are being asked to wash their hands often, maintain physical distance of at least three feet from others, and follow good cough/sneeze etiquette.
  7. All employees are screened daily for symptoms associated with COVID-19 to determine whether they may continue providing care at the Center.
  8. All patients are screened daily for symptoms associated with COVID-19 and, depending on the outcome of the screening, may be asked to postpone their appointment until they have been tested for the virus.

If you have questions or concerns regarding COVID-19, please visit our COVID-19 FAQ section to learn more about the steps we are taking to ensure your cancer treatment does not get delayed.