'It is heartbreaking': Doctors, non-profit leaders concerned about lack of cancer screenings during COVID-19

ByKate Larsen KTRK logo
Thursday, September 24, 2020
Doctors concerned about lack of cancer screenings during COVID-19
Medical experts are making grim predictions about the future of breast cancer death rates, as people haven't been coming in to get screened during the pandemic.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The pandemic has created medical problems beyond COVID-19. Doctors and non-profit leaders alike are concerned about cancer screenings and patient funding.

"We're very, very worried," said Dr. Heather Greenwood, a University of California, San Francisco radiologist.

"While there's, unfortunately, a lot of patients struggling with COVID, the number of patients with cancer is not going away either," Greenwood said.

Dr. Greenwood specializes in breast imaging, as well as diagnosing and treating breast cancer.

"Several models that have been published from the National Cancer Institute suggest that from breast cancer and colon cancer alone related to the pandemic, in the next decade, they'll be 10,000 more deaths that are just related to the fact that people aren't coming in, people aren't getting screened as they normally would," Greenwood said.

In the spring, most breast imaging appointments - mammograms and ultrasounds - were cancelled in accordance with lock down guidelines. At UCSF, volume has picked back up to 90% of normal, but it's still a big concern, as is supporting cancer patients.

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"I delayed my mammogram several months, so I'm now going in October," said Joanne Horning, the founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen's San Francisco branch.

Horning says all eight California Komen affiliates are suffering due to a lack of participation and donations.

"Everything is down," Horning said.

The pandemic has forced the Susan G. Komen More Than Pink Walk to go from the Embarcadero to a virtual Zoom event this weekend. As a result, donations and registration are down. Last year, 1,200 people registered. This year, there are less than 200 registered walkers.

Horning says this impacts women who are underinsured and underserved.

"It is heartbreaking because we want to help the breast cancer patient in the Bay Area. And the money raised from this race, go to our Komen treatment assistance fund, and that helps the breast cancer patient who needs oral chemotherapy, who needs pain meds, who needs transportation to and from their treatment center, that needs childcare or psychosocial services."

Horning says they are short $55,000 of their $125,000 fundraising goal for the walk. She says $25,000 helps support 67 Bay Area women through breast cancer treatment.

The good news - there's still time to schedule a cancer screening and to register for the walk.

It costs $20 to register for the More Than Pink Walk, which begins on Zoom and Facebook at 9:30 Sunday morning. Participants can choose to go for a walk on their own after the virtual ceremony.