The Colorectal Cancer Alliance has teamed up with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), the American Cancer Society (ACS) and other leading cancer organizations across the country to endorse the resumption of cancer screening and treatment during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The coalition of 76 organizations has released an open letter reminding the public that cancer still poses a major threat to people’s health, but acting as soon as is safely possible can lead to much better outcomes in the future. The letter examines distressing trends showing a significant drop-off in recommended cancer screening and treatment compared to prior years. This concerning side-effect of the pandemic could lead to a staggering number of preventable cancer deaths over the next ten years and beyond.
“The impact of COVID-19 goes well beyond the numbers seen on the news,” said Trudy Loper, Senior Director of Screening at the Alliance. “Colorectal cancer screening rates fell precipitously at the start of the pandemic and have been slow to bounce back. Delays in screening and timely follow up on symptoms will lead to lives lost from this disease. And it is likely to contribute disproportionately to additional lives lost among African Americans who experience higher incidence and mortality from both COVID-19 and colorectal cancer."
The Alliance has launched a comprehensive marketing campaign to alert the public to the continued risk of colorectal cancer and the necessity of life-saving screening, which can be conducted safely during the pandemic and beyond. The campaign includes the launch of an online patient navigation tool that provides a personalized screening recommendation and education materials based on an individual's risk factors.
For March National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the Alliance is also asking people to sign and share a screening pledge. Those who sign will receive support to ensure they follow through with screening.
Oncology experts agree that people should not delay any necessary prevention or care.
“When cancer is caught earlier, it is typically easier to treat because there are more options available,” said Robert W. Carlson, MD, CEO, NCCN. “When the pandemic first hit the United States, a short delay in care was an appropriate choice for many cancer types. However, the balance of risk has shifted significantly. We now have two impressive vaccines that are being distributed around the world. We also know much more about how to treat and prevent COVID-19. Cancer centers are taking multiple measures to protect patients and staff from COVID-19 and transmission within cancer centers is quite unusual. Meanwhile, far too many cancers are being left to grow unchecked. Postponing cancer care will add tragedy on top of tragedy.”
“It is of the utmost importance that critical cancer screenings resume as soon as safely possible,” said William G. Cance, MD, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the American Cancer Society. “Over the past decade we have seen overall cancer mortality rates drop dramatically. This decline is in large part due to screening’s ability to catch cancers before they spread—when the chances of good outcomes are most likely. We have come too far in our fight against cancer to allow long breaks in vital screening to slow down our progress in saving lives.”
Hospitals and medical systems across the country have already begun vaccinating health care providers among other measures to ensure a safe environment for people receiving cancer screening and treatment. The confirmed use of evidence-based precautions against COVID-19 should provide reassurance against fears of infection during necessary medical care.
The letter points out that researchers around the world have made tremendous strides in controlling cancer in recent years. Leading oncology experts are now asking everyone, in coordination with their health care provider, to resume preventive and prescribed care and contact their doctor right away about any new symptoms or concerns.
Visit NCCN.org/resume-screening to read the entire letter.
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