Graduation parties, vacations, weddings, haircuts — there are a lot of things that have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And while some of these postponements were disappointing, they were important in order to keep yourself and those around you safe and healthy.
Something else that was pushed back on a lot of calendars was the mammogram — a cancer screening tool used to detect breast cancer. Compared to March 2019, there was an 86% to 94% drop in overall cancer screenings in the US in March 2020, likely due to anxieties surrounding the virus.
"While delaying your annual mammogram may have been the best choice for you at the height of the pandemic, it remains critical to undergo this life-saving screening. Women who are considered to have an average risk of breast cancer can begin annual mammograms at age 40 and should be done each year — pandemic or not," says Eugene Glavin, MD, Director of Breast Imaging at Chester County Hospital
Hospitals around the country, including right here at Chester County Hospital, have swiftly adapted to the pandemic by implementing protocols to keep you safe as you maintain necessary health screenings. Here are 4 reasons to get your mammogram back on the calendar.
1. An early breast cancer diagnosis can save your life.
Eugene Glavin, MD
Director of Breast Imaging at Chester County Hospital
Mammograms are a breast cancer screening tool, which means they check for the deadly disease before any symptoms appear. They're meant to detect breast cancer long before any lumps, pain, discharge, or other possible signs of breast cancer are noticeable, and this early detection may save your life.
When cancer is discovered early, your odds of survival increase. This is because the cancer may be smaller and easier to treat. Also, finding cancer early makes it less likely you'll require aggressive treatments like a mastectomy (surgery to remove the breast) or chemotherapy.
Certain treatments, including chemotherapy and immunotherapy, can also weaken your immune system, putting you at higher risk of complications from COVID-19. And if cancer spreads to your lungs, you may develop lung problems that can get worse if you become infected with the virus.
"A mammogram is the only test that has shown a reduction in deaths from breast cancer, and this 20-minute procedure could add years to your life. Early detection remains just as critical as before COVID-19," adds Dr. Glavin.
2. Some women are at a higher risk of breast cancer.
A temporary postponement for women who have an average risk of cancer may have made sense while hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. However, concerns surrounding the pandemic may have caused women who are at a higher risk of breast cancer to delay these appointments for too long, putting their lives on the line.
Women who may be considered high risk for breast cancer include those who have:
- A family history of breast cancer, especially from parents, siblings, and children
- A known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
- A parent, sibling, or child with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation (and haven't had genetic testing themselves)
- Had radiation therapy to the chest between the ages of 10 and 30
- Syndromes (or have a parent, sibling, or child with syndromes) such as Li-Fraumeni, Cowden, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome
Unfortunately, your risk for breast cancer remains the same during the COVID-19 pandemic, and delaying routine screenings for too long can be dangerous. Early detection is especially important for women who have a higher chance of being diagnosed with the disease.
3. Mammograms can be done safely, even during a pandemic.
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic came to the Chester County area, Chester County Hospital began planning to ensure the safety of every individual who walked through the hospital doors — including those who need routine services like a mammogram.
To begin, CCH has its own COVID-19 unit that is completely separate from other areas, including the mammography department. In addition, many safety precautions have been put in place, such as:
- Thermal scanning (equipment that measures surface skin temperature)
- Requiring everyone to wear masks at all times
- Reconfiguring waiting areas to promote social distancing
- Increasing the frequency of cleaning waiting areas and high-touch surfaces, such as tabletops, buttons, and handrails
- Providing plenty of hand sanitizer throughout the hospital
CCH has also organized a committee dedicated solely to ensuring patients, visitors, and staff are kept safe. As a result, you can be confident that going in for your mammogram is safe — and highly beneficial for cancer detection.
Read more about safety measures at Chester County Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
4. The COVID-19 pandemic is not going away anytime soon.
The pandemic has changed the world for the past few months, and what comes next depends on a variety of factors, including social-control measures (like mask-wearing and social distancing), medications, and, of course, a vaccine.
However, one thing is certain — COVID-19 isn't showing signs of disappearing anytime soon. As a result, it's become necessary for your well-being to find safe ways to keep up with routine health management — including your mammogram.
Over 42,000 people are estimated to lose their lives to breast cancer in 2020. If people continue to delay essential screenings like mammograms, this number could increase. On the other hand, continuing to get your annual mammogram can help keep you healthy for many years to come.
Know Your Individual Risk — and Communicate With Your Provider
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the world for a loop in a number of ways, and finding ways to keep up with healthcare appointments is certainly one of them. In order to stay safe and healthy, communication with your healthcare provider is critical.
If you may be at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, such as due to older age or other health conditions like heart disease or diabetes, talk to your provider. Together, you can decide when you can safely resume routine mammograms.
While this pandemic may understandably lead to more anxiety, it's also a great time to recognize how essential your good health is. Mammograms have long been a life-saving tool for women in order to diagnose and treat cancer as early as possible, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, this remains as true as ever.
Do you have questions about scheduling your annual mammogram during the COVID-19 pandemic? Call 610-431-5131 to schedule a mammogram. You can also request an appointment online.
Related Information from Chester County Hospital: