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Routine cancer screenings still not back up to pre-pandemic numbers

One of the casualties of COVID-19 is routine screening for potential health problems, but a late diagnosis can mean more serious progressive of cancers like lung, breast and prostate.

At the peak of the pandemic a year ago, screening across the country dropped to about 10% of what it had been and still hasn't recovered. If you don't look, you won't find, said Dr. Stephen Edge, vice president for system quality and outcomes at Roswell Park Comprehensive cancer Cancer and a breast cancer surgeon.

He said the cancer center was all-in from the beginning in making sure everyone was safe, when the virus hit and that often meant telling people to stay home to be safe, developing intense safety measures and the center's own COVID test. Edge said the concern now is that some patients aren't coming back to get the screening they need.

"People of color, people of less economic means, people of different ethnic backgrounds who may already have difficulty accessing care or have experienced discrimination in their access to care and are, therefore, leery of the health system," he said.

Edge said the results of the patient delays may not show up for a few years.

"Our goal is to screen people before they've ever had any symptoms, and that dropped off because we told people to drop it off and then it's taken longer than expected for everybody to come in and start having their screenings," he said.

Roswell Park still has visibly rigorous safety precautions, like masks. That's important in a facility where chemotherapy routinely wrecks immune systems during treatment and patients need special protection, even before the pandemic.

"We, of course, counsel those patients who are going to get therapies that will make them immuno-compromised that they need to keep up their guard very carefully during the time they are getting chemotherapy and the like," Edge said. "I don't know that I've had any patients who been on chemotherapies, but I, personally, know of patients of my practice that were on chemotherapy who then got COVID. They were very careful."