Delayed cancer diagnoses could result in 10,000 excess deaths, study says

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The National Cancer Institute estimates that delayed diagnoses due to the pandemic could result in 10,000 additional deaths from breast and colorectal cancers in the next 10 years.

Recent research shows cancer diagnoses declined by nearly 50 percent at the beginning of the pandemic.

Doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center says the earlier cancer is caught, the better chance a patient has at successful treatment.

"Cancer is not quarantining like we did," said Dr. Ethan Cohen, assistant professor of breast imaging at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. "We are seeing less women coming in for screenings now, and it is unfortunate. We are concerned because we're trying to avoid delayed diagnosis, and we know that the best way to survive breast cancer is to find it early when it's treatable and the way people do that is with screening mammographies. We really want to encourage women and let women know that it is safe right now to come in to MD Anderson and get their screening mammogram."

Cancer patients are also more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their weakened immune systems.

"Our population at MD Anderson is at incredibly high risk for COVID because of their immunosuppression and compromised states, and so we are really concerned, which is why we've gone above and beyond the normal safety measures to make sure that everyone, the patients, the staff, everyone feels safe and knows that it's OK to come to MD Anderson," Cohen said.

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Cohen says it's important for women to get annual breast cancer screenings beginning at age 40 or earlier if they are at higher risk for breast cancer.

"When we don't screen women for breast cancer, women end up finding it via a palpable lung or other symptom, and that's when it's more advanced and the more advanced breast cancer is, the more difficult to treat, and it is less survivable, which is why screening mammography works when we find early treatable breast cancer. It's much more survivable, and that's the goal with screening mammography. "

To protect patients, MD Anderson verbally screens for COVID-19 symptoms, checks for temperatures using thermal imaging technology, requires and provides medical-grade masks, and practices social distancing guidelines.

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