Cancer deaths expected to rise due to screenings delayed by pandemic, experts say

Posted at 12:54 PM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 18:49:05-04

CLEVELAND — Could the next health care crisis to hit our country be more people battling late-stage cancer? The pandemic has delayed cancer screenings and detection, which can have a major impact on outcomes.

"No excuses. Get screened for colorectal cancer," is the message from Fight CRC (Colorectal Cancer). The messenger teeing it up is Melvin Fernandes, 46, of Lyndurst.

“Don't be afraid of it,” Fernandes said.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and Fernandes is a spokesperson for a new national campaign.

“I was only 42-years-old and in good health, otherwise good health, when I was diagnosed,” he said.

It was his brother, who lives in another state, who noticed a change in Mel's weight and appetite when the two met up at a PGA golf tournament.

“He thought I should go get checked out,” Fernandes recalled.

Their annual brotherly tradition saved his life.

Fernandes saw his doctor when he got home, and a colonoscopy found a large tumor. He had part of his colon removed as well as his bladder.

Unfortunately, the cancer spread to his liver and lungs.

“So, over the last four years I’ve had two surgeries on my liver and radiation on my lungs,” Fernandes said. “It's been a bit of a long journey."

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer death in the United States when men and women are combined.

It is on the rise among young people. That is why the American Cancer Society (ACS) now recommends people at average risk start getting screened at age 45.

“If colonoscopy is negative, you're usually good for 10 years then before you'll need another one," said Dr. David Liska, a colorectal surgeon at Cleveland Clinic.

Liska said colon cancer is one of the most preventable and curable cancers when caught early.

Here's the problem: the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a delay in all cancer screenings, diagnosis and treatment, the ACS siad.

For example, screenings for colorectal cancer alone are down nearly 90%, which Clinical Oncology News estimates will result in a 12% increase in deaths over the next five years.

Liska said he’s afraid we could possibly see more people fighting late-stage cancers down the road, and perhaps, sadly, even more deaths that could've been prevented because of the pandemic. He said it's already happening here at home with his patients.

“Where they had maybe some symptoms or they were due for a screening but delayed it because of the pandemic and then presented six, seven, eight months later with a relatively advanced cancer," Liska said.

He said you are safe to come in for screening procedures. The pandemic precautions and guidelines are protecting patients and providers.

Do not forget about virtual appointments, where you can discuss symptoms with your doctor and then come in for a procedure if necessary.

“We are urging all our patients to really make sure they take care of themselves during this pandemic and don't miss out on important screenings,” Liska said.

Fernandes has continued to visit his doctor for treatments during the pandemic. He hopes his story hits home with you, and you don't delay your cancer screenings.

“Having discomfort for one day could save you for the rest of your life,” Fernandes said.