The global pandemic of coronavirus, or COVID-19, has rippled across the world and caused disruptions in daily life and routine. Schools have closed. Restaurants have shuttered and workplaces have changed to all things remote. Among the impacted industries, is, of course, health care.
Many people are wondering whether you should still get screened for cancer during the pandemic. As the situation has evolved, health officials have come up with guidelines to get us through this time of unknowns.
Let’s take a closer look at cancer screening during the pandemic and what you can do to keep yourself healthy during these uncertain times.
What is a Cancer Screening Test?
Cancer screening tests help to find cancer early before it causes symptoms. In these early stages, cancer may be easier to successfully treat. Cancer screenings have more potential benefits than harm — some noted harms include possible bleeding or physical damage, inaccurate test results, and overdiagnosis, which leads to the diagnosis of cancers that would not cause problems and did not require treatment. 1
Should You Still Get Screened During the Pandemic?
Health officials are warning everyone — especially those at high risk — to stay home as much as possible. Staying home decreases your risk of being exposed to the virus and can keep you safe and healthy. Screening tests also keep you safe and healthy, and many patients have been curious about whether or not they should continue their screenings during the pandemic. 2
Because these screening tests save lives, it’s important to schedule the test with a facility that is taking high safety and precaution measures during this time. At Immunity Therapy Center we are proud to continue to open our doors and offer high quality and safe service to our patients. Additionally, the best way to stay healthy is by taking precautions yourself as well. Wear a mask and gloves, and do not touch your face during your visit.
Routine Cancer Screenings
The CDC supports screenings for breast, cervical, colorectal (colon), and lung cancers. 3
The best way to find breast cancer early is through mammograms.
Colon cancer, also referred to as colorectal cancer, typically develops from abnormal growths in the colon or rectum. These precancerous polyps can be found through screening tests and removed before they turn into cancer. Treatment works best on colon cancer when the cancer is detected early.
A Pap test can find abnormal cells in the cervix. These cells might eventually turn into cancer. An HPV test looks for the virus that can cause cell changes — human papillomavirus. Pap tests also can detect cervical cancer early when there is a very high chance of it being cured.
With individuals between 55 and 80 years old who have a history of heavy smoking, and smoke now or who have quit within the past few years, the USPSTF recommends yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). For more information, see our guide to Coronavirus Resources for Those with Lung Cancer.
How Serious is COVID-19?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health states that “The vast majority of individuals who contract the novel coronavirus, they will experience mild to moderate symptoms and their treatment will be to remain at home, treating their symptoms the way they would a severe cold or the flu.” “For some individuals, he continues, “a smaller percentage, especially those who may be medically fragile, they will require medical attention including possible hospitalization.” 2
According to the CDC, the people who might be at a greater risk for serious complications if they are infected with COVID-19 include the following:
- Older adults (aged 65 or older) or people living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
- People with weakened immune systems**
- People with chronic lung disease (including moderate or severe asthma)
- People with serious heart conditions
- People who are very obese
- People with medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver disease
Keep in mind that many conditions can weaken the immune system. These include cancer and cancer treatment, smoking, having poorly controlled HIV or aids, various medicines, long courses of steroids, having had an organ transplant, or being born with an immune deficiency. 2
Getting Back on Track When Restrictions Lift
When the restrictions are lifted, it’s crucial that you stay on top of your appointments. There is going to be a lot to catch up on — between work, health, school, and family. All of these things take priority, so make things easier on yourself and open the line of communication with your healthcare provider. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the virus, healthcare providers can help you come up with some sort of tentative plan, contact Immunity Therapy Center to see how you should continue treatment.
What to Do to Stay Healthy in the Meantime
As the pandemic continues to affect our daily lives, it’s important to stay healthy and stay away from habits that can put you at risk for developing cancer. In addition, keeping healthy habits during this time will also decrease your chances of getting sick from the virus. If you make your health a priority, both your body and your mind will thank you. 3
Steer Clear From Tobacco
Any way you look at it, there is no safe form of tobacco. If you chew or smoke tobacco, now is a good time to quit. Remember to also stay away from second-hand smoke, as this can lead to cancer and other health issues as well.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight can increase your risk of various types of cancer. That’s why it’s important to make healthy choices about eating and exercise. Avoid excessive weight gain and balance your caloric intake with physical activity. Remember that losing even a small amount of weight is a success. With the restrictions in place, many of us have more time to go for a walk around the block (as long as it’s safe to do so) and cook our own meals. When we aren’t eating out, we’re also able to more closely monitor portion control, all of which affect weight gain.
Exercise and Get Moving
The American Cancer Society suggests that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. You can also combine these and ideally, spread them throughout the week (rather than all at once). Children and adolescents should get at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous-intensity activity each day — with vigorous activity at least 3 days each week. Think of moderate activity as anything that makes you breathe as hard as you would during a good, brisk walk. You can still talk during the activity, but not sing. Vigorous activity, on the other hand, is performed at a higher intensity and therefore, causes your heart rate to go up. The key to regular exercise is to find something you love and do it for the long term. This can be swimming, walking, jogging, biking, yoga, or dance. The best thing you can do is to get off the couch and get moving.
Eat a Nutritious Diet
To keep your immune system strong during this time, focus on eating healthy. Aim for 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and fruit each day, which are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. Opt for whole-grain bread and pasta instead of refined bread. Minimize the number of processed meats you consume, like bacon and hot dogs, and limit your intake of red meats like beef, pork, and lamb. Instead, go for lean meats like fish or protein. Beans are another good source of protein.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Limiting alcohol consumption will also keep your immune system strong and ensure that you feel good from the inside out. Men should aim to have no more than 2 drinks per day, and women should have no more than 1 drink per day. Remember that a drink is considered 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
At Immunity Therapy Center, we know that screening for cancer saves lives, which is why our team makes it a top priority. We also know how important it is to practice social distancing, maintain healthy habits (like washing your hands and using a facial covering), and to stay home as much as possible.
Rest assured that our team has taken great strides toward creating an environment that is safe and clean. Our clients’ health and safety has, and always will be our #1 priority.
From all of us at ITC, stay safe and be well.
For more information, see our guides to Coronavirus Resources for Cancer Patients and How to Seek Treatment as a Cancer Patient During COVID-19.
- “Screening Tests.” cancer.gov, January 16, 2019, https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/screening/screening-tests. Accessed April 20, 2020.
- Falco, Miriam. “Common Questions About the New Coronavirus Outbreak.” cancer.org, April 17, 2020, https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/common-questions-about-the-new-coronavirus-outbreak.html. Accessed April 20, 2020.
- “Screening Tests.” cdc.gov, July 9, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/prevention/screening.htm. Accessed April 20, 2020.