Cancer did not wait for the pandemic to end, and early local numbers suggest that the rate of breast cancer is ticking up in part because women delayed routine medical screenings out of fear of infection from the new coronavirus.
Doctors in the Cincinnati region say that while demand for their services rose in 2021 after a pandemic-induced slump in 2020, they still are not seeing patients at 2019 levels. The doctors reiterated a warning, which health care leaders have expressed through the pandemic: Delayed medical care could mean a rise in cancer, heart disease, mental illness, asthma, diabetes and other ailments.
“The numbers are still low,” said Dr. Mary Mahoney, chief of imaging at UC Health. “If somebody wants to make a new year’s resolution about getting back into their health care maintenance, that would be a good idea.”
While emphasizing that the data are raw, Mahoney said breast cancer screenings at UC Health are already showing a worrisome trend. “If we were seeing 20 new cancers a month on a normal basis, and in 2020, we saw five to 10 in a month, now in 2021, we’re back up to 20 a month,” although the number of screenings is at 89% of 2019.
The sooner a clump of cells is found to be cancerous, the sooner treatment can start and make cancer a manageable condition, Mahoney said.
The slow return of patients to medical offices and screening centers has been a major worry for the hospital systems in Ohio. In March 2020, Gov. Mike DeWine shut down all nonessential surgeries and procedures for six weeks to allow hospitals to handle the first wave of the new coronavirus infections.
Ohio’s hospitals took an estimated $4 billion hit from that shutdown, a cost that federal pandemic funding through the CARES Act largely but not entirely covered. But hospital leaders have frequently spoken of their worries about people with heart attacks and fast-growing cancers that get neglected.
Mahoney said in talking with her radiology patients, the impact of the pandemic on their health lasts far longer than the six-week shutdown. “It’s everything. They lost their jobs, and then their insurance, and they lost childcare and the kids were out of school. There wasn’t time to get in.”
Dr. Louito Edje is associate dean of graduate medical education at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. She also has a lively social