When to begin mammograms, why you shouldn’t use COVID-19 as an excuse to skip them

The American Cancer Society said there was an estimated 87% decline in mammography from February to April 2020.

They blame the decrease on the COVID-19 pandemic and are concerned eventually women will come in with a more progressed disease.

That’s a concern because the illness has a higher chance of survival the sooner you catch it.

“Whenever we diagnose breast cancer early, the cure rate is above 90%,” said oncologist Dr. Philip Salem.

Kylene Beers, of The Woodlands, said doctors found her breast cancer early.

“I just had a feeling inside my breast that was almost like a pinched nerve or something,” Beers said. “They found I had two types of cancer.”

After surgery, chemo and radiation, she beat it but it returned.

“It came back and it had spread into my chest wall,” Beers said.

So, for the second time, early detection helped save her life.

Now, she and her doctor are worried other women during the pandemic won’t be as lucky.

“We can easily take care of COVID-19 and also continue to do early detection,” said Dr. Salem.

He said waiting to see a doctor, even for just a few months, could make a huge difference for recovery.

“If you diagnose breast cancer early you can cure it,” Dr. Salem said. “Stick to the screening and do the screening.”

“What I would remind women is cancer doesn’t decide to wait because you are too busy. Cancer is going to keep moving forward and do what it knows how to do, which is reproduce, reproduce, reproduce. The sooner you can stop the reproduction, the faster you can stay in front of it,” Beers said.

The average woman needs to begin screenings by 45-55 but sometimes by 40-years-old. The CDC recommends talking to your doctor to determine when annual screenings should begin for you.

Patients who put off mammograms and any cancer screenings could be putting themselves at serious risk.

The American Cancer Society assures patients that screening centers should be following these guidelines during the pandemic:

  • Screening centers should be available to answer questions from patients via phone or web portal before and/or after the screening procedure.
  • Patients should be pre-screened for COVID-related symptoms before screening appointments.
  • Scheduling of appointments should allow for physical distancing between patients, and longer appointment times, if needed, to avoid crowding in waiting rooms and patient care areas.
  • There should be limitations on visitors other than patients and/or their caregivers into the screening facility.
  • If not done in front of the patient, the screening center should be able to explain how often equipment and surfaces are disinfected and cleaned.
  • Everyone, including patients and staff, should wear a face covering or face mask, where appropriate. There should be frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer by staff, patients, and visitors.