While much of your everyday life may be on pause as a result of COVID-19, it's imperative to continue your preventative health visits, immunizations, and screenings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 41% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care by June 30, 2020 because of COVID-19 fears. While it’s important to protect yourself and others from the virus, it’s equally important to stay vigilant about all aspects of your health, especially preventative care.
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Though many people are concerned about the safety of a doctor's office, the fact is that these facilities tend to be especially safe, because physicians are taking every measure to ensure a low-risk environment, even adjusting their protocols and services. They're enforcing practices based on the CDC guidelines including temperature screenings prior to entry, cleaning and sanitizing, wearing masks, screening patients for COVID-19 symptoms the day prior to their visit, and staggering appointments to reduce the number of people in the waiting room. Call your doctor’s office before your visit and inquire about their protocols, social distancing practices, and other special measures they may be taking.
Here's why breast and colorectal cancer screenings, dental health checkups, and immunizations are more important than ever.
Breast Cancer Screening
According to the CDC, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the United States.. It's also "the second most common cause of death from cancer among white, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women."
Since screenings to help prevent breast cancer have been reduced during the pandemic, we may be more at risk for breast cancer than ever before. "Hundreds of thousands of cancer screenings were deferred," according to the Wall Street Journal, and the National Cancer Institute model is predicting more than 10,000 breast and colorectal cancer-related deaths over the next decade due to delays in diagnosis brought about by COVID-19.
“COVID-19 is directing us right into a breast cancer crisis,” Dr. Kristi Funk, the Founder of Pink Lotus Breast Center, who stopped by The Doctor Oz Show on October 20, 2020. “What’s concerning is that the new weekly diagnosis for breast cancer is down 52% compared to pre-COVID-19.”
Dr. Funk says unless you're high risk, you can get your mammograms, starting at 40. The American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 45 to 54 get a mammogram every year, and women 55 and older every two years. Dr. Funk also tells The Dr. Oz Show that 14% of invasive cancers like breast cancer happen between the ages of 40-49, and early detection may lead to a more favorable prognosis. If you’re high risk because of genetic or family history factors, be sure to get a mammogram and breast MRI every year starting at 30. Talk to your doctor to make sure you're getting the right test at the right time for your age and risk-factor. “Breast cancer is not sheltering in place [because of the virus]; and ladies neither should you. If you’re due for a screening, get it done,” says Dr. Funk.
Colorectal Cancer Screenings
In addition to breast cancer screenings, colorectal cancer screenings are a top priority. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2020, there will be an estimated 104,610 new cases of colon cancer and 43,340 new cases of rectal cancer diagnosed in the U.S., with a majority of the cases in adults ages 50 and older. Twelve percent will be diagnosed in individuals younger than age 50. The American Cancer Society recommends that people start regular colorectal screenings at age 45, either by getting a colonoscopy every 10 years or doing the stool-based test every one to three years. If you opt for the stool test and it's abnormal, you’ll need a colonoscopy for further follow-up. Talk to your doctor to find out which screening is best for you. Screenings are imperative to diagnose colon cancer, and it's important not to delay them during the pandemic.
New data from the Health Care Cost Institute shows that colonoscopies declined by 88 percent in mid-April and were still 33 percent lower than normal at the end of June 2020. Dr. Oz's first colonoscopy may have saved his life. “Part of smart prevention is early detection,” he says. Yes, even during COVID-19.
Several factors are associated with increased risk of colorectal cancers, including age, family history, excessive alcohol use, obesity, being physically inactive, cigarette smoking, and diet. Don’t let your fear of the virus get in the way of what could be a lifesaving screening.
Chances are your regularly-scheduled dental cleaning was canceled earlier this year when many non-essential businesses were ordered to close. Going back to the dentist for preventative care may be the furthest thing from your mind and it may feel risky to remove your mask and sit close to a dentist, knowing that the virus is spread through respiratory droplets. However, dentists follow strict rules from the CDC to ensure a safe environment. Dentists are wearing the highest level of PPE that’s available including masks, goggles, and face shields to ensure that they, their staff, and patients are protected.For a detailed look at what to expect before and during your dental visit, read our in-depth article.
Oral health is directly related to your overall health and without preventative care, untreated diseases will progress with time and increase the complexity and cost of your treatment, the ADA states.
ADVERRemember to prioritize oral health care at home, and be sure to have the right tools. According to the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, “electric toothbrushes resulted in 22% less gum recession and 18% less tooth decay over the 11-year period.” Dr. Nammy Patel, DDS, who runs Green Dentistry, also recommends purchasing a water flosser. While Dr. Patel says everyone should make flossing part of their daily routine, adding a water flosser can only help. She says it’s perfect for hard to reach places and is a much faster way to floss.
As we all anxiously await a vaccine for COVID-19, it’s important to keep up with protective immunizations for you and your children. According to Sharecare, a World Health Organization (WHO) poll taken in June found that vaccination rates worldwide had dipped dramatically. Sixty-one countries that revealed immunization status for the poll, with 85% reporting a lower level of immunization coverage in May than in January and February 2020.
“As many schools reopen, it’s critical that all these kids are up to date on their immunizations,” explains Tina Tan, MD, board member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “The last thing you want to have is an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease on top of COVID-19 and on top of influenza.” If you’ve fallen off schedule, book a well visit and talk to the doctor about a catch-up plan.
A flu shot is more important than ever this year. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older should get a flu shot (with rare exceptions) by the end of October 2020 to carry you through to the end of flu season. Since it generally takes two weeks for your immune system to develop antibodies – the proteins that help the body fight off infections – it's critical you receive the vaccine now if you haven't already.
Doctors agree that preventative health appointments are still very important despite the fact that we’re in a pandemic. The longer you push off screenings and immunizations due to fear of contracting COVID-19, the more at-risk you can be for otherwise preventable or treatable cancers and diseases. Call your doctors to ask questions that may help ease your mind about visiting, and set up your necessary appointments as soon as possible. Remember, your overall health goes beyond protecting yourself from the virus — it includes protecting yourself from other diseases.