Increase in cancer deaths expected due to pandemic as patients miss vital health screenings

The National Cancer Institute estimates the COVID-19 pandemic could result in more than 10,000 additional breast and colon cancer deaths over the next decade. Estimates that include all other cancers would make it significantly harder.

Florida Cancer Specialists helped with a study that shows how hesitance to seek care this past year has contributed to that devastating number.

One St. Cloud mother said she wished she had listened to her body sooner and not wasted any time seeking help.

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“February of 2020, I kind of felt some pain in my stomach. I wasn’t eating,” said 37-year-old Kashley Ryan.

Ryan went to the hospital but said, “I remember texting my sister and I was like, ‘Well, they said they didn’t find nothing.’ And she said, ‘No, go back. Don’t leave without an answer.’”

But Ryan decided to wait it out. She felt better, pushed away the uneasy feeling and then the pandemic got underway.

By July, she said, “I didn’t feel so great and I felt really bloated and blah.”

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At that point, cases were surging across the state and hospitals were filling up.

“I was worried that they wouldn’t treat me, that they wouldn’t see me,” she said.

She eventually went back, and a doctor sat down, took his mask off and told her that her health was serious.

She learned she had Stage 3C ovarian cancer. In the time between her first symptoms and diagnosis, it had spread to nearly every organ around her abdomen.

“I think we’re possibly looking at a health care crisis coming in the future,” said Dr. Michel Velez.

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Dr. Velez worries some patients are waiting even longer than Ryan to seek help.

That hesitancy, canceled or rescheduled routine screenings, lack of comfort with telehealth and loss of health insurance for so many unemployed people, has created the perfect storm.

“We saw personally about 50% decrease in new patient visits through our organization,” said Dr. Velez.

The other 50% of the new patients still exist, they just don’t know they have cancer yet.

“Those patients that are not getting diagnosed on time are going to come up with diagnoses that are later in stage and that unfortunately is going to compromise their ability to be cured from the disease,” said Dr. Velez.

Which is why he and the other Florida Cancer Specialists doctors are using the attention from the opening of their new Lake Nona facility to hammer the message home of not hesitating to seek care.

“Just go, get help because you never know,” said Ryan. “If I would’ve waited and if I would’ve been afraid to start my treatment, there’s no way I would be here right now.

Dr. Velez says to reschedule any missed routine screenings as soon as possible.

If you don’t have or have lost your health insurance due to job loss, click here to find a federally qualified health center near you. They charge for services on a sliding scale based on what patients can afford.