Should I postpone a routine cancer screening because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic?
Answer From Sandhya Pruthi, M.D.
As stay-at-home orders are relaxed or lifted, health care facilities are beginning to schedule routine cancer screenings, tests and exams again. These cancer screenings are regularly scheduled tests to check for cancer in people with no symptoms.
If you're due — or overdue — for a routine cancer screening right now, here are some things to consider:
- Early detection could make a difference. Routine cancer screenings are still important. Generally, the later cancer is detected, the more serious and involved treatment becomes. Catching cancer at an earlier stage may make cancer easier to treat and improve outcomes. If you're considered high-risk, it's especially important for you to stick to a regular screening schedule.
- Every community is unique. Depending on the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in your area, policies may differ. Some health care facilities may be open during regular hours, while others may be operating only on a part-time basis. This may impact the availability of time slots for your screening.
Alternative testing options may be available. Many types of screening exams — such as a mammogram, colonoscopy, Pap smear, human papillomavirus (HPV) testing, PSA test and lung cancer screening — require an in-person visit. But no-contact options may be available for certain screenings, such as fecal occult blood testing or stool DNA testing (Cologuard) for colon cancer, which involve collecting a stool sample at home and mailing it to your doctor.
If you're due for a skin cancer screening, telemedicine may be available. Telemedicine involves taking photos of anything new, changing or unusual on your skin and sending them to your doctor.
If it's time for your routine cancer screening, talk with your doctor about the best health approach for you.
Oct. 15, 2020
See more Expert Answers
- Cancer screening. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/screening. Accessed July 24, 2020.
- Cancer screening during the COVID-19 pandemic. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/find-cancer-early/cancer-screening-guidelines/cancer-screening-during-covid-19-pandemic.html. Accessed July 24, 2020.
- Coronavirus and your skin health. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/member/practice/coronavirus/clinical-guidance/recommendations. Accessed June 23, 2020.
- Gomolin T, et al. The danger of neglecting melanoma during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Dermatological Treatment. 2020; doi:10.1080/09546634.2020.1762844.
- Colorectal Cancer Screening (PDQ): Health Professional Version. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal/hp/colorectal-screening-pdq. Accessed June 23, 2020.