It’s Time to Return to Preventive Health Screenings

female doctor talks with an older female patient who is sitting on an exam table

With the emergence of COVID-19, routine preventive care, including breast, cervical, and colon cancer screening, decreased dramatically to prioritize urgent care and reduce the spread of the virus in medical facilities.

The good news is that 92.6 percent of people in King County ages 5+ have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and half are fully vaccinated.

The bad news is that patients are not returning to regular preventive health and cancer screenings at the pace seen before the pandemic.

Our medical system is getting back on its feet, and while caution is understandable, it’s critical we get back to scheduling preventive health screenings that help save lives. Cancer is not going away and will not wait for a pandemic to pass.

Routine Screenings Save Lives

Routine screenings help detect diseases in the earlier stages and give patients a better chance of beating any deadly disease, especially cancer. Continuing to postpone these vital check-ups can lead patients to diagnosis of an advanced cancer that is harder to treat.

A model created by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) predicts an excess of 10,000 deaths from breast and colorectal cancer over the next ten years due to missed screenings, delays in diagnosis, and reductions in regular care caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The impacts of these missed and delayed screenings are disproportionately felt by communities of color and low-income communities already devastated by the pandemic.

March was Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and we joined with our partners at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance to raise awareness about opportunities to screen, care, and cure. Although colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer, early detection through prevention and screening is proven to reduce deaths dramatically.

Free Cancer Screening Resources

In King County, people who are low-income, uninsured, or facing deductibles may be eligible for free breast and cervical cancer screenings through our Breast, Cervical, and Colon Health Program. Questions about eligibility? Call our referral line at 1-800-756-5437.

In addition, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance’s navigators can help you determine what colon cancer screening approach is right for you and connect you with screening options (including free home tests for those eligible).

This month is a great time to schedule a preventive health screening and learn more about cancer prevention. Doctors recommend anyone aged 45 or older get a colon cancer screening, age 40 and older a breast cancer screening, and 21 or older cervical cancer screening.

Please talk to your doctor this month to determine which test is suitable for you and #GetScreened. Your life depends on it!

Contributor Fred Mariscal works at Public Health Chronic Disease & Injury Prevention.

Originally published 3/22/2022 in Public Health Insider, this article also appears in the April 2022 issue of AgeWise King County.