Doctors' warning: Don't put off breast cancer screenings

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Doctors' warning: Don't put off breast cancer screenings
Breast cancer screenings have dropped 90 percent since the start of the pandemic, leaving doctors worried about a spike in late-stage diagnoses that are harder to treat.

Patients again have a green light for routine medical screenings.

But many patients aren't taking advantage of it. Or they aren't showing up for their appointments.

And that's putting lives and health at risk.

"I had been very regular in my screenings," says Melanie Fowler of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.

Then Fowler missed a few years.

"When I went back, they did discover a lump," she recalls.

Fortunately, it was early-stage cancer.

Dr. Catherine Tuite, a radiologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, says normally about 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.

But records show screenings plummeted around 90 percent in March, and haven't completely recovered.

That may mean more later-stage cancers, which are more complicated to treat, even among younger women.

"In fact, one-sixth of all breast cancers are diagnosed in women in their 40s," she says.

Mammograms are the cornerstone of screening.

Many centers now use an enhanced type called digital tomosynthesis, or 3D mammography.

"It's kind of like flipping through the pages of a book when we look at a 3D mammogram compared to a 2D mammogram," Dr. Tuite notes.

Ultrasound or MRI tests are commonly used in addition to mammograms for women with dense breasts, a family history of breast cancer, or a genetic predisposition to cancer.

Earlier this summer, Pennsylvania became one of a few states requiring insurers to pay for those supplemental screenings.

And Fox Chase is taking extra steps to keep every patient safe.

"We've increased the time in between appointments to promote social distancing. Everyone at Fox Chase has a screening before they come into the center, including employees," she says.

"Now's the time to get that appointment on the books," she adds.

"I would say don't delay. They have their procedures down pat," notes Melanie.

There's good news for women now trying to catch up on their screenings. Fox Chase says there's virtually no wait for appointments.

There are plenty available right away.