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Your Health Care Can’t Wait - Do Not Delay Cancer Care and Screening Due to COVID Concerns, Says UPMC Hillman’s Dr. Stanley Marks
By Nancy Kennedy

Fear of contracting coronavirus in a healthcare facility or physician’s office has led many Americans to delay or cancel medical care, including cancer screenings such as colonoscopies and mammograms. Cancer care professionals are concerned about the significant impact this is having on cancer diagnosis and treatment. According to Stanley M. Marks, MD, Chairman of UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, a recent National Cancer Institute study indicated that fewer cancers are being diagnosed due to COVID-19 fears, and enrollment in clinical trials has fallen sharply. As a consequence, there could be an additional 10,000 deaths across the U.S. within the next ten years, due to COVID-related delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“There is no doubt that there will be unnecessary cancer deaths,” Dr. Marks says. “Cancer screenings are elective procedures, but a delay of several months can mean the difference as to whether cancer can be cured or not. Don’t put off your screening tests for even a few months or think it can wait until next year. Early detection is critical.”

Dr. Marks says that he and his fellow oncologists and other specialists at Hillman understand the fear and anxiety that people have about COVID-19. “We understand it, but cancer is also a big risk.”

Dr. Marks reminds patients to monitor their own health and to see their PCP if they experience any of these common cancer symptoms:

• Unexplained fever or night sweats

•  Unexplained weight loss

•  Persistent cough or hoarseness

•  A sore that is not healing

• A lump in the breast or testicle

• A change in bowel or bladder habits

• Unusual pain

•  Abnormal bleeding from any site

In addition, Dr. Marks encourages patients who are currently receiving cancer treatment to maintain their appointments and avoid any disruptions in their care. “In our cancer center, most patients are comfortable coming in. In some situations, we may be able to switch a patient from an IV medication to an oral one, so that they can take it at home, but that is not always possible. Although telemedicine has been widely used during the pandemic, it is not always appropriate; we prefer to see and examine patients who are being treated for cancer.”

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center reassures all patients that they provide a safe environment. “We have a comprehensive plan to protect patients and staff and we take all the precautions recommended by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, in every single one of our 70 locations. It may also be helpful to remember that in Allegheny County, there is low penetration of COVID in the population – just one in 400 residents have contracted it.”

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has implemented these protocols:

  • Screening patients and staff for exposure and symptoms
  • Expansive testing capacities
  • Face mask requirement for all over age two
  • Highest grade disinfectant use to clean all facilities
  • Essential PPE in more than adequate supply
  • Well trained staff including an Infectious Disease Prevention team
  • Visiting restrictions
  • And more

Dr. Marks says that it’s essential to keep in mind the reason for cancer screenings: “We screen for many common cancers because, when caught early, the patient has a greater likelihood of surviving. Screenings make a significant difference. It’s a question of risk versus benefit, and in regard to cancer screenings in the time of COVID, we believe the benefit of cancer screenings outweigh the risks. Get your screenings and get the care that you need.”

If you are under the care of a physician for a chronic condition, post-operative care or an acute illness, it is essential that you comply with appointments and do not ignore symptoms or problems. You may be offered a virtual appointment, but if your doctor wishes to see you in person, you can rest assured that you will be given explicit instructions for your visit and you will be protected from exposure to COVID 19. All UPMC facilities are following meticulous policies for your safety. For more detailed information, visit www.upmc.com/coronavirus.

To learn more about UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, visit www.hillman.upmc.com

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