A new survey shows that routine mammograms, regarded as the best way to detect breast cancer early, were delayed during the coronavirus pandemic as medical offices closed and people were advised to stay at home.
According to the online survey, conducted by Breastcancer.org, a nonprofit organization, 11% of the over 600 respondents said that their routine mammograms were delayed. Other changes to breast cancer care, including delays on reconstructive surgery, were reported as well.
"Routine screening for breast cancer, including an annual mammogram, is our best chance at saving lives through early detection," said Dr. Marisa Weiss, chief medical officer and founder of Breastcancer.org. "The National Cancer Institute estimates that COVID-19 disruptions in cancer screening, including routine mammograms, could lead to thousands of additional deaths over the next decade."
Early in the pandemic, the American Cancer Society said that routine screenings were put on hold to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus in health care settings and prioritize more urgent medical needs.
Now, that advice has changed, and people are being urged to talk to their doctors about rescheduling their routine screenings as soon as possible, as long as you don't live in an area that is currently experiencing a surge in cases.
NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren, who completed her radiation treatment for breast cancer during the peak of the pandemic in New York City, said that she worries that delays in mammograms and other treatments will lead to a "shadow wave" of delayed cancer diagnoses.
"The women who are going through this now, who are a little behind me, are always on my mind," she said. "I worry about women who aren't getting diagnosed, who are putting off mammograms, and I can't help but think that if I had found the dent in my breast (this year), I'm not sure I would have fought so hard to see someone right away, because of COVID-19. I think that fears of the virus are really impacting women going for both routine screenings and getting diagnosed."
Dahlgren also shared a brief update on her condition after being declared cancer-free in April.
"I’m doing well. I started hormone treatment, as the next sort of phase of my treatment, and that seems to be going well," she said. "I’m trying to enjoy time with my family, I’m getting back to working out more, and I’m trying to stay healthy and everything, so far, looks good."
"Being a survivor, somebody described it to me as a ‘headache is never a headache’ — it's always in the back of your mind, that the cancer could come back, but I try to keep a positive attitude and a healthy mindset without letting the worries be overwhelming," she continued.