The power of becoming an empowered patient
April 12, 2023Read More
COVID-19 threw a lot of things out of gear, and that includes cancer screenings. According to the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), 422,000 fewer mammograms than usual were performed in the province during the pandemic. In March through May 2020, people in the U.S. missed out on 9.3 million cancer screenings, and that was only three months. Of course the pandemic has lasted long beyond those three months, but several years later, many still have not prioritized their missed cancer screenings or they have delayed medical care, which can have dire consequences.
It’s not too late, though. At the start of this new year, make it your goal to schedule the needed screenings to stay on top of our health. Here are four reasons why.
#1: Outcomes worsen over time
Catching health problems earlier usually makes them easier to treat, potentially allowing them to be diagnosed at a less serious stage. An undetected tumor can continue to grow and potentially metastasize, which negatively affects a person’s prognosis.
With cancer, later-stage diagnoses put patients at a disadvantage and some of the earlier treatment options may no longer be appropriate which has a ripple effect on success rates. For example, The net five year survival rate decreases with every later stage breast cancer diagnosis, whereas with stage 0 and 1, patients have a nearly 100% five year survival rate. At those early stages, the cancer is usually non-invasive and easier to treat.
Researchers at University of California San Diego found that when comparing breast cancer diagnoses in 2019 vs 2020 (pre-pandemic and pandemic), significantly more patients presented with stage 4 breast cancer than stage 1. These numbers indicate that we are approaching the tipping point of late-stage diagnoses, but this can be thwarted if more high-risk patients schedule their screenings now, rather than waiting.
#2: Imaging facilities can accommodate demand
Imaging facilities are working hard to clear the backlog for screening studies and are eager to help patients get the testing and preventative care they need. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen your primary care doctor, schedule that appointment too. It can be helpful to ask the doctor what screening tests you need, to make sure you’re staying up on current guidelines for what should be done and how often. Ask your doctor about studies like:
#3: Clinics have safe protocols and timely appointments
The pandemic scared many people away from the doctor’s office. And sometimes, even with an appointment, clinics were running well behind schedule, causing long wait times for patients. In December 2020, for example, Ruth waited hours before her mammogram and ultrasound appointment. The experience was so negative that she skipped her 6-month follow-up exam to avoid the hassle. But unfortunately, a year later when she returned for her scan, doctors found a tumor on her mammogram. They also uncovered that her December 2020 scan had an abnormality that – missed by the specialists at the time.
The appointment situation has improved. Many medical offices still have safety protocols in place, like requiring mask-wearing when in the building. But patients also aren’t waiting hours for their appointments. If you are due for a mammogram, follow these helpful tips when preparing.
#4: Technology makes it easier to track and monitor screenings
Tracking medical appointments and imaging can be confusing, even if just done for routine purposes. Luckily, technology has evolved to make it easier to access and centralize all your imaging records. Clinics have moved past old practices that make it difficult for patients to retrieve and share imaging with their doctors. This allows patients to have more control – they can share their imaging with their provider right away, which means faster follow-up appointments and earlier treatment interventions to facilitate the best possible outcomes.
You can submit a request to access your records right after your imaging appointment, by providing the name of the hospital or clinic where you had the imaging done and completing the information on PocketHealth’s request records page. Your imaging should be on your account as soon as it’s uploaded online.
Maintaining your records electronically helps you and your doctor track your health, disease progression and comparisons of scans overtime. Most importantly, with access to imaging and report notes, patients ask providers informed questions, detect problems sooner and prevent illnesses. Now is the time to make a resolution to take your health seriously and stay organized and on top of it. It’s too important not to.
Get access to your own cancer screening records and take back control of your health:Access My Records