Advanced diagnoses and more deaths expected as cancer screenings dropped drastically during pandemic

A side effect of the pandemic is rearing its ugly head, as doctors are finding more advanced cases of cancer in patients after screenings are down drastically.
Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 5:56 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 14, 2021 at 5:58 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A side effect of the pandemic is rearing its ugly head, doctors are finding more advanced cases of cancer in patients after cancer screenings are down drastically.

Julia Smith was one of those who missed her mammogram last year during the pandemic.

“The country shut down and it wasn’t really given another thought until early this year,” Smith said.

When she got her screening back in May, doctors found a mass.

“Being that I’ve never had any health issues, it was a little bit of a shock,” she said.

Smith was fortunate though. Doctors found her cancer early. She was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in June.

“I did not find mine on my own. It had to be found through, like I said, two mammograms, a sonogram, a biopsy,” she said.

Smith is far from an abnormality. Cancer screening rates were down drastically last year, breast cancer screenings were down nearly 90%.

“I feel like it seems dramatic,” said Dr. Kate Castle with the Breast & GYN Cancer Pavilion in Baton Rouge.

Dr. Castle said numbers have not been released to show how bad the prognosis is in Baton Rouge but said it feels significantly worse in her office than prior to the pandemic.

“We certainly know there has been a decline in screenings as a result of the pandemic and in my own practice I’ve seen this lead to more advanced cancers, specifically among younger women,” Castle said.

Now, she is raising a red flag, pushing more folks to get screened and not to put it off.

“Certainly the purpose of screening is that we can detect something early and the earlier we detect something the more successful the outcomes, and oftentimes the less treatment a patient needs,” she said.

That is the case for Smith. She had surgery to remove the cancer and is now undergoing radiation. She has three more weeks of treatment plus another five years of hormone therapy. After that, she should be cancer free.

“If I had waited and not had done what I needed to do, who knows if I would’ve just started this today where I would be. I don’t know,” Smith said.

If you need to sign up to be screened, you can find a doctor or a screening specialist at or at the American Cancer Society. Mary Bird Perkins also holds screenings at its mobile unit. You can find screenings here.

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