Cancer Prevention During COVID-19: Difficult, But Important

A combination of positive lifestyle choices, along with proper medical screenings, can go a long way in reducing your cancer risk. But the current coronavirus pandemic has turned cancer prevention on its head.

 


 

Ask any oncologist, and they’ll tell you: the best way to beat cancer is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

 

After all, it was the late Dr. Paul Carbone, for whom the UW Carbone Cancer Center is named, who said the best type of cancer is no cancer.

 

A combination of positive lifestyle choices, along with proper medical screenings, can go a long way in reducing your cancer risk. But the current coronavirus pandemic has turned cancer prevention on its head.

 

“COVID-19 took something that was already difficult and made it extremely difficult,” said Noelle LoConte, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin and UW Carbone member.

 

“A patient would be wise to reach out when things are starting to get reopened about what the options are to get rescheduled.” – Dr. Noelle LoConte on the importance of rescheduling things like mammograms and colonoscopies. That’s due to a number of factors, some of which we have control over and some of which we don’t. COVID-19 has upended our normal routines, which can make it difficult for us to stick to a healthy diet or exercise regimen – things that reduce our cancer risk. We may also be likely to slip back into behaviors that increase cancer risk, especially when it comes to coping with stress, anxiety or even boredom.

 

“There’s a monotonous feeling that we’re all living through right now, where you’re likely to get bored and turn to less healthy choices,” LoConte said. “We’re pretty sure people are drinking more, probably smoking and vaping more, not eating as well, and not getting enough exercise.”

 

However, LoConte says we shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of cancer prevention, and there are creative ways to stay on track. As difficult as it sometimes be, she says it’s important to try something new or different whenever you can. This can be tied to behaviors like eating well or exercising. So consider pulling out that cookbook you got as a gift and cooking a new, healthy recipe from it. Or try out a workout on YouTube that you’ve never done before. If you’ve been wondering what the heck Zumba is, it’s a great time to find out.

 

LoConte also recommends checking in on friends and family with a phone call. It can leave you feeling refreshed and connected, and even serve as a great distraction from everything else that’s happening in the world.

 

However, it’s not just lifestyle choices and modifiable behaviors that are having an impact on cancer prevention. Many hospitals and clinics have been temporarily scaling back on routine or “non-essential” appointments and procedures, which sometimes include cancer prevention measures. One example is appointments for HPV vaccinations, which can reduce one’s risk of getting cervical and other forms of cancer.

 

In addition, screenings aimed at early detection of cancer, such as mammograms or colonoscopies, are also falling by the wayside during COVID-19. While telehealth has emerged as a popular care option in recent weeks, there’s unfortunately no good way to do these cancer screenings virtually. “I’m just very, very worried about what we’re going to see a year or two down the road,” LoConte said. “I’m worried we’re going to see patients with these advanced cancers that maybe could have been caught earlier.”

 

Perhaps now then is a good time to familiarize yourself with your risk for various cancers, and what you can do about it in the near future. The Centers for Disease Control has information about screening tests and vaccines, and when is the right time to be doing them.

 

If you had a preventative appointment postponed, your doctor or health team may reach out to you about rescheduling, but LoConte says you may want to be proactive about doing it yourself. “A patient would be wise to reach out when things are starting to get reopened about what the options are to get rescheduled,” she said.

 

If you haven’t had a screening done before, and you’re due, start thinking about when you can get one on your calendar.

 

Most importantly, LoConte says if you’re having symptoms now, even if you don’t know what’s causing them, call your doctor and seek care if needed. Don’t try to tough it out or wait until the pandemic blows over. “I’m really worried there are people at home with lots of symptoms that aren’t getting evaluated, she said. “Call your primary care doctor if something doesn’t feel right.”

 

If you must come to the clinic, know that the medical staff is taking every precaution to keep both you and the staff safe, including screening at the door and universal mask use.

 

For more information on protecting yourself against COVID-19, and information about our clinics, visit UW Health’s COVID-19 information page.

 

 

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Date Published: 05/01/2020

News tag(s):  cancerAdvances

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