PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings renewed concerns about the coronavirus pandemic causing delays in screenings, potentially leading to more cancer cases. Mammograms are the best way to find cancer early when it’s most treatable, but one study found that 285,000 mammograms were missed during the peak months of the pandemic.
For women who are already in treatment, the coronavirus is causing increased anxiety.
“It’s a lot of places I go in that I’m terrified to go in,” Crystal Drayton, a breast cancer patient, said.
Drayton lives in constant fear of COVID-19. She was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer three years ago and is determined to continue her chemotherapy at Fox Chase. But it’s not easy.
She’s 38 with six children and battling breast cancer during a pandemic.
“It’s very overwhelming,” she said. “But by the grace, it has eased over. Things look a little better for me.”
Most cancer treatments continued through the pandemic, but mammograms are down dramatically.
“It’s a huge challenge and problem,” Dr. Arnold Baskies, with the American Cancer Society, said.
Baskies, a breast surgeon, says there was a brief pause on screenings at the beginning of the pandemic, but once they resumed, many women stayed away, fearful of being exposed to COVID-19.
“We know that delay will lead to larger tumors in the breast being discovered,” Baskies said. “Mammograms can find breast cancers when they’re small and that makes them somewhat easier to treat.”
Norma Atwood, who’s a mammogram technician, had to delay her own screening until May because of the pandemic.
“Well, I just said, ‘Here we go, it’s my turn now,'” the 63-year-old Atwood said.
Her breast cancer was successfully treated and she’s back to work, telling women not to be afraid.
“We’re safe, we take all precautions,” Atwood said. “I will even clean it in front of the patient for them to be reassured.”
For Drayton, who lives in Philadelphia, she says her six children keep her motivated and positive.
“Sometimes I don’t know what to do, but I keep my head up high,” Drayton said, “and I know that it’s going to be a better day.”
In addition to decreased screenings, Baskies is also concerned about breast cancer research that’s also been delayed because of the pandemic.
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