AURORA, Colo. — Detecting cancer early can ultimately be the difference between life and death. Doctors are now saying the COVID-19 pandemic has scared people from going out to get a cancer screening.
Breast cancer surgeon Dr. Laura Hafertepen practices at Medical Center of Aurora. She says before the pandemic, the hospital was seeing 700 women a month for a screening. That changed at the height of the pandemic.
"We had less than 100 patients a month," Dr. Hafertepen said. "I think we bottomed out at 60 or so patients in one month."
The significant drop looks to be a nationwide trend. A study published in JAMA Oncology shows cancer screenings fell 60% to 82% when it came to five screenings. Dr. Hafertepen thinks there's a clear explanation.
"People were scared," she said. "People did not want to come out of their homes unless there was a true need to."
Although cancer screenings are starting to go back to pre-pandemic levels now, Dr. Hafertepen is afraid the damage has already been done. She's seeing more advanced cases of breast cancer now.
"Instead of stage one cases, I'm seeing more stage two or three," she said.
She said she believes it's a direct correlation to women delaying a screening.
Cancer survivor Cathy Meyer said this is a stark reminder of how just important early detection is.
"Unfortunately cancer doesn’t adhere to lockdowns," Meyer said. "It does whatever, whenever it wants."
Meyer said it's worth it to take the risk and go to the doctor, even as the pandemic rages on.
"These centers are equipped for sanitation and spacing," Meyer said. "It's important and it's safe."