The Surprising Reason Coronavirus Will Make Cancer Even Deadlier

It was wise to put off appointments when COVID first hit, but now it's time to give your doctor a call.

With life on hold as a result of coronavirus lockdowns, many things that were once considered routine were put on the back-burner: hair cuts, birthday parties, and graduations have all had to wait. But increasingly, doctors are cautioning that there's one thing you won't want to put off much longer: medical appointments. Missed checkups and treatments could result in an increase in death rates for non-COVID-related illnesses—including those of treatable cancers, experts say.

The director of the National Cancer Institute, Norman "Ned" Sharpless, MD, wrote in an editorial for the journal Science that these postponed appointments could translate into over 10,000 avoidable cancer deaths over the coming decade. Given that research efforts for many diseases have also stalled during this time of global emergency, we may see fewer advancements in cancer research, and fewer lives saved over time.

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As Sharpless points out, in the age of social distancing, people have been especially wary of medical settings like hospitals—many of which have been primarily used to treat COVID patients over recent months. "Fear of contracting the coronavirus in healthcare settings has dissuaded people from screening, diagnosis, and treatment for non–COVID-19 diseases," he explains. He further states that while there has been a steep decline of cancer diagnoses, there is no reason to think the actual incidence of cancer has declined. This means that many Americans are missing out on critical care that they could be receiving during earlier stages of the disease.

This could have tremendous long-term implications, he says, given that "the earlier one receives cancer treatment, the better the results." Sharpless adds that "cancers being missed now will still come to light eventually, but at a later stage, and with worse prognoses."

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So, if you've been putting off your mammogram or colonoscopy due to coronavirus, it may be time to rethink your strategy. If you live in an area where coronavirus numbers are contained, go ahead and make an appointment in a healthcare setting that you feel is taking appropriate precautions against coronavirus transmission. And read on to debunk the 23 Myths About Cancer You've Always Believed.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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