breast cancer badge

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and soon we will see pink everywhere: pink ribbons, pink T-shirts, even yogurt lids. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, many other things have changed. 

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the state of Arizona. An estimated 5,630 will be diagnosed with the disease this year, and approximately 900 will die. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, elective medical procedures, including cancer screening, were largely put on hold to prioritize urgent needs and reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in healthcare settings. One consequence of this has been a substantial decline in cancer screening, including mammograms to detect breast cancer. The Society’s Vice President of Prevention and Early Detection Dr. Durado Brooks notes that due to the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a significant decrease in the number of people getting screened. One analysis of claims data (IQVIA) reported that there was an 87% decline in Mammograms from February to April 2020. It is estimated that more than 7 million women delayed or declined mammograms during the first half of 2020. That translates to 36,000 patients delayed in a potential breast cancer diagnosis. As our state continues to navigate life during the pandemic, restarting cancer screening requires careful consideration of the risks and benefits of screening, along with ensuring safety for both patients and healthcare workers.

Finding breast cancer early and when it is at its most treatable and survivable states is of paramount importance to cancer care. The American Cancer Society recommends that women at average risk of getting breast cancer have the option to begin mammography screening every year between ages 40 to 44. Women ages 45 to 54 should continue to get mammograms every year, however, women at average risk ages 55 and older can be screened every two years. Women 55 or older who had a normal mammogram within the last year could choose to have their next mammogram up to 24 months after their last one.

If a woman has put off breast cancer screening due to COVID-19 or is due for their annual mammogram, it’s important that it is done as safely as possible. The American Cancer Society follows the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for healthcare facilities to reduce the risk of COVID transmission:

• Screening centers should be available to answer questions from patients via phone or web portal before and/or after the screening procedure.

• Patients should be pre-screened for COVID-related symptoms before screening appointments.

• Scheduling of appointments should allow for physical distancing between patients, and longer appointment times, if needed, to avoid crowding in waiting rooms and patient care areas.

• There should be limitations on visitors other than patients and/or their caregivers into the screening facility.

• If not done in front of the patient, the screening center should be able to explain how often equipment and surfaces are disinfected and cleaned.

• Everyone, including patients and staff, should wear a face covering or face mask, where appropriate. There should be frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer by staff, patients, and visitors.

In addition to screening, breast cancer fundraisers have changed a bit in 2020 as well. The annual American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk of Tucson, which in the past has united thousands at Armory Park and raised millions over the past two decades, will be a virtually distanced drive instead this year. Participants are being asked to decorate their car in as much pink as possible on Sunday, Oct. 18, meet in the GEICO parking lot at 8 a.m., and begin a designated route around Tucson’s streets. A detailed route will be provided closer to the event, but you can register online now and start planning how you will decorate your vehicle to show the Tucson community our commitment to saving lives from breast cancer did not stop during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

That is one thing that will never change. 

To register for free for Drive For Making Strides of Tucson, visit makingstrideswalk.org/tucsonaz. 

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