COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the health care system and taken hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. Still, there are other significant health consequences of the pandemic that haven’t yet been quantified, according to local doctors. These include the consequences of missing screenings for deadly conditions like cancer. According to a 2021 paper in JAMA Oncology, more than 9 million people across the country missed screenings for breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers that year, delaying routine but potentially life-saving doctor visits.
Here are four primary groups affected by missed health screenings, and the importance getting them scheduled:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last October that crucial vaccinations among children for diseases like polio and measles dropped worldwide, during the pandemic, to the lowest levels in more than 10 years.
That’s just part of the problem for kids, says Dr. Kevin Dazy of Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Parents have been bringing children in at much lower rates in the last two years, he says, which means pediatricians haven’t had a chance to catch health and developmental problems before they progress.
“This has been a frustrating thing for all pediatricians, because part of our role is in preventive medicine,” Dazy says. “The biggest thing is, we don’t want to miss that opportunity to intervene early on. If they’re not gaining weight well or reaching all their milestones, we can seek out the best possible experts. We want to avoid children having to seek acute care or go to the hospital.”
The big screenings getting missed for men are prostate, colorectal, and chronic disease like high blood pressure and diabetes, says Dr. Daniel Passerman, chair of family medicine for Henry Ford Health System.
“What I have seen is a lot more uncontrolled disease, like diabetes, because they’ve put off going to the doctor,” he says. “We’re seeing more patients who have been without medicine, more people who have had trouble following up, than we’ve seen in the past.”
Prostate cancer screenings are especially important for Black men, Passerman says. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that for Black men, the risk of dying from low-grade prostate cancer is double that of men of other races.
“With all cancers and all disease, prevention and catching things early always leads to a better outcomes,” Passerman says.
Many clinics are backlogged for mammograms and continue to play catch-up from two years of missed appointments, says Dr. Lori Mausi, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist at Beaumont Health.
“At first, in 2020, we were only scheduling emergency visits, and preventive visits for mammograms and cervical cancer screenings were on hold,” Mausi says. “This year, we’re still behind, but we’re trying to make up all those appointments now.”
The most worrisome population, though, are the patients who have noticed something abnormal, like a lump, and shrugged it off out of fear of contracting COVID-19 during a checkup.
“People have stayed away because they’re scared of infection,” Mausi says. “They’re not on our radar.”
The pandemic has been especially hard on older adults, and isolation could cause some health conditions, like depression and cognitive decline, to progress more rapidly, says University of Michigan associate professor of geriatric and palliative medicine Dr. Lillian Min.
Because the elderly have put off annual visits, they haven’t undergone screenings for these conditions, Min says. In addition, “cognitive decline is compounded by not seeing the doctor because the patients are not organized. With the pandemic, people are also drinking alcohol more, making cognitive impairment, depression, and blood pressure worse.”
Min said this population is also less likely to engage in telehealth visits, giving them an even greater disadvantage.
This story is from the 2022 edition of Health Guide. Read more stories here.