WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – The pandemic of 2020 forced many people to put their health on hold. Cancer screenings, for one, were delayed or even canceled to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.
The charity, Breast Cancer Now, estimates that around 986,000 people missed their mammograms because screenings were paused in March. Those screenings find cancer you can’t see or feel.
“With breast cancer, early detection is the key to treating either pre-cancerous or early-stage breast cancers but due to screenings not happening as early as they should, we are concerned we will see an increase in more advanced diagnosed breast cancers,” said Kristen Wissbaum, an oncology surgical nurse at NHRMC.
Research suggests that could lead to more deaths. That’s discouraging as women dying from breast cancer is down 40% from the 1990′s.
“Which is great, but we’re still having lots of populations that are diagnosed with more advanced stages,” she says.
Wissbaum says New Hanover Regional is participating in what’s called a Community of Practice where they’re reaching out to African American and Latino populations to encourage them to get their mammograms.
“Those two populations tend to be diagnosed either at later stages or have a higher increase of death from breast cancer,” she says.
Caught early in any race, breast cancer is very treatable.
“Overall, survival from breast cancer is very good,” Wissbaum says. “We always try to encourage patients when they come in with a breast cancer diagnosis. It is very treatable. We have many options. If it’s caught sooner there’s even more options there and the overall chance of survival 5, 10, 20 years from now is much higher. The earlier stage breast cancers are diagnosed on screening mammogram before the patient has any symptoms. Most patients don’t feel a mass or have any breast changes. It’s just picked up by a mammogram.”
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women. While the death rate from breast cancer has decreased, hospitals are still seeing patients come in with more advanced stages of the disease. Wissbaum says that is why getting a mammogram is so important.
“If you missed your mammogram in the month you were supposed to have it, we recommend getting it as soon as possible — not waiting an extra year or waiting for that month to come back around.”
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