Doctors still see patients delaying cancer screenings, treatment as pandemic wanes

A patient gets a mammogram for cancer pre-screening. (FOX 9)

Doctors in Minnesota say they’re still seeing patients delaying cancer screenings even after many COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

Doctors say cancer pre-screenings are down by more than half compared to their pre-pandemic numbers. They say waiting to be screened could be a matter of life and death. 

"In my entire time as an oncologist, this has been the hardest year because we’re seeing such delays in patients getting their care," said Dr. Christian Squillante, an oncologist.

Dr. Squillante says he’s having some of the toughest conversations with patients this past year than in his nearly 10 years of working.  

"I think what’s been the most challenging part for me as an oncologist is seeing patients with treatable cancers get delay in their care, seeing patients with curable cancer get delay in their care from a curable stage to an incurable stage," he said. 

He says people are also not getting as many cancer pre-screenings.  

"We’ve seen a 50 to 75 percent reduction in early cancer screenings during the height of COVID," said Mike Koroscik, the vice president of oncology at Allina Health. "We’ve only bounced back a little bit."  

Medical experts say one reason for the backlog is because people are still staying home even though COVID-19 cases are declining. Another reason is patients are not prioritizing these life-saving screenings.  

"With the delay in early screenings from colonoscopies to [mammograms], it will have a detrimental effect on cancer program for years to come," said Koroscik.  

While medical experts say both men and women are delaying these screenings at the same rate, people of color are impacted the most.  

"We know that breast cancer is more likely to kill Black women than white women," said Squillante. "We also see this in lung cancer as it tends to present at a later stage than white counterparts."  

Doctors say in some cases, patients are even putting off treatment.

"We’re seeing patients who have had cancer stop getting their treatments because they don’t want to come into the office," said Squillante. "We’ve seen patients who don’t have cancer come in at a much later stage than they usually would have and that definitely can affect their outcomes."

Doctors say the last year was spent taking care of others by following social distancing rules and staying home when asked, but now it’s time to refocus.  

"It’s time to take a look at yourself and put your health first," said Squillante. "Get back to the office, get back to taking care of you, get to the doctor, make sure you’re doing what you need to do for your health." 

Doctors add that skin cancer is the fastest-growing cancer type in Minnesota.