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Utahns skipping needed cancer screenings because of COVID-19 fears

A sign outside the University of Utah Hospital. (Meghan Thackrey | KSLTV

SALT LAKE CITY – Plenty of Utahns are hunkered down in their homes to protect themselves from COVID-19, but doctors say that shouldn’t stop you from getting needed cancer screenings.

Dr. Mary Beckerle, the CEO of Huntsman Cancer Institute, says the fear is unfounded because there are plenty of ways to protect patients from COVID-19. 

“Everyone is masked. We also practice physical distancing in our waiting rooms. Everybody that comes into the hospital or clinic has a temperature check, has their hands sanitized. And we also have been spreading out our patient appointments,” Beckerle says. 

Dr. Beckerle says skipping a cancer screening can be dangerous for Utahns. 

“Many cancers, after they’ve been growing for a certain period of time, will begin to spread or metastasize. The real key is detecting a cancer really early when it’s easily treatable. Once a person has major symptoms related to cancer, oftentimes that cancer is a later-stage cancer with a much more poor outcome,” Beckerle says.

Dr. Brett Parkinson with Intermountain Healthcare agrees. 

“We identify about four or five [breast] cancers per thousand screening mammograms that we do. If all of those women skipped their mammograms, and we look at the next year, then we’re going to see twice as many cancers, half of which will have grown significantly,” Parkinson says.   

Dr. Parkinson also understands why people are nervous to make their appointments, but Intermountain Healthcare is using masks, social distancing, and other measures to keep people safe. 

According to the National Cancer Institute, there have been 90% fewer screenings in the United States for breast and colorectal cancer.  

Dr. Beckerle says another reason people should go see their doctor is because there will probably be at least 10,000 preventable cancer deaths in the US over the next year because of those missed screenings.

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