As our communities responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals chose to postpone routine medical screenings.
In North Dakota, Women’s Way saw an immediate decline in cancer screenings, recording a 60% decrease in completed breast and cervical cancer screenings in April through June 2020.
Women’s Way is North Dakota’s breast and cervical cancer early detection program. Susan Mormann, Women’s Way director with the North Dakota Department of Health, says the decline in cancer screenings has continued for the past 12 months and raises concerns for women’s health.
On average, about 500 women in North Dakota are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, according to the North Dakota Statewide Cancer Registry. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in noticeable decreases and delays in identifying new cancers and treatment delivery within the United States. Delays in diagnosis can allow cancer to grow and progress to a more advanced stage and may result in higher death rates for years to come.
The effects of cancer presenting at a later stage often requires more complex care, lowering patients’ likelihood of responding to therapy and treatment.
“It is still unknown how COVID-19 will impact cancer diagnoses in North Dakota; however, fewer cases being diagnosed does not equate to a decline in the number of cancer cases,” says Mormann. “This just means there could be women going about their daily lives that likely have cancer but are not yet aware.”
That’s why Women’s Way is urging North Dakota women to resume regular breast and cervical cancer screenings.
The Women’s Way message is simple: screenings are safe and save lives,” says Mormann. “Providers are taking the necessary precautions to protect their patients. They want you to screen because screenings give you the best chance of catching cancer early, when it is easier to treat.”
For some, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been the only obstacle to getting cancer screenings. According to Women’s Way, individuals who are uninsured or underinsured are less likely to be screened for cancer. Thanks to funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North Dakota Legislative Assembly, Women’s Way can help North Dakota women overcome this financial hurdle.
Women’s Way reports as many as 17,000 women in North Dakota could be eligible to receive free breast and cervical cancer screenings.
“Cancer didn’t suddenly disappear when the COVID-19 pandemic began,” says Mormann. “Make your health a priority. Women’s Way is encouraging you to resume your screenings today.”