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Cancer Care and Prevention Critical Despite Pandemic

Cancer Care and Prevention Critical Despite Pandemic

By Mary Beth TeSelle, Special to The Union
Doctors urge patients to stay up to date with their preventive health care, including screenings appropriate for their age and risk factors, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Care providers are taking precautions to ensure the safety of their patients.

This Thursday, Feb. 4, Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital will join health care providers and families around the world in commemorating World Cancer Day. The goal of the day is to both honor those whose lives have been touched by cancer while also working to prevent cancer in the future.

“World Cancer Day was established last year,” explains David Campbell, MD, a cancer specialist with Dignity Health Medical Group – Sierra Nevada. “It is a day to place ‘cancer awareness’ in the news and to promote public awareness of cancer issues. The hope is that by highlighting this day in the media, people will remember to pursue cancer prevention and early detection strategies.”

The best strategies for preventing cancer are the healthy lifestyle choices that can prevent other illnesses, too:



• Don’t use tobacco

• Eat a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables



• Maintain a healthy weight

• Protect yourself from the sun

• Exercise most days

Seeking regular medical care, including screenings that are appropriate for your age and risk factors, is also key to reducing your risk for cancer. Cancer that is found in the earlier stages typically responds better to treatment and leads to better outcomes.

If you or a loved one does receive a cancer diagnosis, working with your care team to develop a treatment plan and following through on that plan is vital. Dr. Campbell says this has proven to be especially challenging for many patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Cancer care over the past year has been very difficult,” Dr. Campbell says. “This is due to the stay-at-home orders and the fear that patients and their families have that socializing with friends and family might result in death or severe illness from COVID. This has created significant social isolation and emotional problems that only worsen the concerns they have due to cancer. I have personally had quite a few patients decline treatment due to this fear.”

While there have been some reports nationwide of a decline in heart attack and stroke patients in emergency rooms, particularly early in the pandemic, Dr. Campbell is concerned that there may also be an under-reported number of cancer patients, as well.

“The fear of COVID in my opinion has led to a delay in seeking timely medical care,” he says. “I believe there are fewer people going in for early detection strategies like mammograms and colonoscopies. I believe that as we open the economy back up, we will see a surge in cancer diagnoses, and many will be diagnosed at a more advanced stage due to the delay.”

Dr. Campbell and the rest of the team at the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Community Cancer Center have reassured patients and urged them to get the care they need, including screenings. They’ve also tried to find creative, innovative solutions to help meet their patients’ needs.

“In the office we do many visits by telemedicine,” Dr. Campbell says, referring to visits that are conducted by video conference using a smart phone or table.

Unfortunately, Dr. Campbell says these virtual visits prove challenging for many of his patients, some of whom struggle with the technology. He also says that the personal touch can be a crucial element when it comes to cancer treatment.

“To many of them, the warmth of a hug, a handshake or a smiling face in the same room makes all the difference,” Dr. Campbell explains. “To them, seeing their doctor on a computer screen is just not adequate. For a doctor, caring for patients is much more than prescribing the right pharmaceutical. The art of medicine involves much, much more than that.”

Fortunately, thanks to the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently being distributed across the country, there is hope that a return to normal life, and normal medical care, is on the horizon. In the meantime, Dr. Campbell encourages everyone to do what they can to live a healthy lifestyle, including recommended screenings and medical care. And when and if you are able, get the vaccine.

“My advice is to get vaccinated for COVID,” he says. “And discuss your fears about this virus and the vaccine with your doctor.”

 

 


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