Cancer screening saves lives, but over the past year, many Americans postponed their routine screening appointments due to the pandemic. February is National Cancer Prevention Month, and now is the time to get those appointments back on the books. As a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program®, I am sharing this vital information for your health.
It is estimated that 1.9 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer and 608,570 will die from these diseases in 2021. In Maryland alone, an estimated 34,590 will be diagnosed and 11,010 will die of cancer this year. These statistics do not consider the impact caused by COVID-19. Although fewer people were diagnosed with cancer in early 2020, more late-stage diagnoses and deaths are expected in the next few months and years due to delayed screenings and treatment.
According to a recent Prevent Cancer Foundation® survey, more than 50% of Americans missed, postponed and/or cancelled one or more routine medical appointment in 2020. Annual physicals and dental appointments were the most missed appointments, but mammograms, PAP/HPV tests, and skin checks were also cited as commonly missed.
Whether it’s for a routine check-up, dental appointment or cancer screening, a visit to your health care provider is an important step for cancer prevention and early detection. Your annual physical is an opportunity to discuss symptoms or risk factors that could affect when or how often you should be screened. Screening for breast, cervical, colorectal, lung, prostate, oral and skin cancers can be effective at detecting cancer early (or even before cancer develops for some cancers), when successful treatment is more likely.
Since the pandemic began, nearly 20% of parents missed at least one of their children’s scheduled vaccinations. This includes the HPV vaccine, which can protect against the virus linked to at least six types of cancer. If you are the parent of preteens, now is the time to schedule their HPV vaccines to protect them against cancer later in life.
It is safe to visit your doctor’s office during the pandemic, but it’s understandable to be nervous about potential exposure to COVID-19. Before your appointment, talk to your health care provider to confirm the precautions they are taking to keep you and others safe. Wear a mask to protect yourself and those around you. If you have been in recent contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or are exhibiting symptoms, reschedule your appointment.
As Americans begin to get vaccinated against COVID-19, prevention is at the forefront of many minds. Let’s bring that mentality to cancer. You can reduce your risk by eating a healthy diet, exercising at least 30 minutes a day at least five days a week, and protecting your skin from the sun. Do not smoke, or quit if you do, and limit alcoholic beverages, if you drink at all.
Act now to get your screening appointments back on the books. Visit preventcancer.org/backonthebooks to learn more about screenings and talk to your health care provider about what is best for you. It could save your life.
Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. and a member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society.