Breast cancer survivor warns others not to miss mammogram screenings during COVID-19

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Medical experts across the nation say cancer screenings have plummeted since the COVID-19 pandemic began and worry thousands of people could be missing early diagnoses as a result.

Charlene Upshaw nearly missed her early-stage breast cancer diagnosis after putting off her annual mammogram for two years.

Upshaw said she decided to go for an exam at MD Anderson soon after her brother was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Doctors diagnosed her with early-stage breast cancer in June 2019.

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"In hindsight, I did notice a few months before that I had some tenderness in my breast, but I just didn't pay much attention to it," Upshaw said. "It wasn't pain. It wasn't persistent. It was just sometimes, I have this tenderness in my breast, and again (I) just didn't pay much attention to it because I had other people to take care of, other things to do, so I didn't have time to be sick."

Upshaw scheduled her first surgery in September, began radiation in October and completed her treatment just before the pandemic began.

"I'm very thankful because I work in that field. I know what happens when things go unattended and undetected," she said. "So many times I've seen in the past patients just waited too long, and by the time you do come and do address the issue, it has just gotten exponentially worse than it initially started out to be. So I'm very thankful that I did it when I did it."

MD Anderson also makes sure each person who enters any of its facilities is screen for COVID-19, while also requiring and providing proper PPE for patients and staff.

"If you can put a mask on and go to Walmart, you can put a mask on and go to MD Anderson or the place of your choice and get your mammogram done," Upshaw said. "When I had to start going for following up exams, because I'm still in that phase of things, I was just so impressed at the level of caution and protective measures MD Anderson had put into place."

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