At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, elective medical procedures, such as cancer screening, were largely postponed prioritizing COVID-19 care. As a result, cancer screening has declined significantly.
Dr Asha Hiremath, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospital, Indiranagar, Bangalore says “Most healthcare facilities are once again offering elective procedures, such as cancer screening. While many precautions are in place, the speed with which you can be screened may vary by community and facility as the pandemic continue.”
“Many factors influence screening decisions, and they may not be the same for everyone. Starting or restarting cancer screening often entails carefully considering the risks and benefits of screening, as well as ensuring that both patients and healthcare personnel are as protected against COVID-19 as possible,” she adds.
Is It Safe To Get Cancer Screening Tests?
To ensure that cancer screening tests are performed as safely as possible, precautions should be taken at health care facilities that provide cancer screening tests.
•Screening centres should be available to answer patients' questions via phone or web portal before and/or after the screening procedure.
•If it isn't done in front of you, the screening centres should be able to tell you how frequently the equipment and surfaces are disinfected and cleaned.
•Everyone, including patients and staff, should wear a face covering or mask when appropriate. Staff, patients, and visitors should wash their hands frequently and use hand sanitizer.
•Patients should be pre-screened for COVID-related symptoms prior to screening appointments.
•Appointment scheduling should allow for physical separation of patients as well as longer appointment times if necessary.
Every year, many women are screened for cervical cancer. However, no organization recommends screening for cervical cancer with a Pap test more frequently than every three years, and no more frequently than every five years if an HPV test is used. If you have previously had normal test results, getting screened for cervical cancer at this time is not necessary.
Many women have an annual mammogram to screen for breast cancer. However, leading screening guidelines recommend that average-risk women aged 55 and older be screened every two years. If you are 55 or older and had a normal mammogram within the last year, you can schedule your next mammogram up to 24 months later.
Colorectal cancer screening options for people at average risk are numerous. Stool tests, for example, faecal immunochemical testing (FIT) or a stool DNA test (such as Cologuard), can be performed safely at home. If the stool test results are positive, you will require a colonoscopy, and it is critical that you communicate with your doctor.
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When Should You See A Doctor?
Some people in certain areas can expect a significant backlog when booking new appointments due to the number of delayed or cancelled screenings.
In many places, it can take months to get a mammogram appointment. The most important thing to remember is to stay calm and register for the next available time slot.
However, there are a few indicators that it may be time to see your doctor sooner rather than later, in which case you should consult with your doctor right away. These are some examples:
- Any change in the breast, such as a new lump or discharge from the nipple
- Any sudden increase in size of the lump
- Persistent redness around breast area
- Swollen area under the arms
Dr Asha Hiremath also says "It is also important to stay on track if you are at high risk due to a family history of breast cancer, a personal history of breast cancer, or if there is something in the breast that is being closely monitored and a short follow-up is recommended."