October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the American Cancer Society is urging residents to talk with their primary care physician about getting screened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The power of pink is on full display throughout October.

The symbol of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month will be prevalent throughout October as international breast cancer charities raise awareness about the disease and raise funds to support research for a cure. The American Cancer Society is using the commemoration to remind residents that regular breast cancer screening is still an important health care measure even during a pandemic.

At the onset of COVID-19, elective medical procedures, including cancer screening, were largely put on hold to prioritize urgent needs and reduce the risk of the spread of the coronavirus in health care settings.

As the state continues to reopen businesses and ease restrictions, many health care facilities are starting to offer elective procedures again. Restarting cancer screenings requires careful consideration of the risks and benefits of screening, along with ensuring safety for both patients and health care personnel.

“Finding breast cancer early and getting high-quality cancer treatment are the most important strategies to prevent deaths from breast cancer. Getting regular screening tests is a critically important part of finding breast cancer early,” said Dr. Laura Makaroff, senior vice president of prevention and early detection for the American Cancer Society.

Decisions about restarting screening depend on many factors, and they may not be the same for every person. They will likely vary by community while the pandemic continues.

If an appointment was made for screening that was postponed or canceled, patients should talk to their health care provider about when to reschedule. Providers can discuss balancing the risks and benefits of being screened now or postponing for a later date, considering personal and family history, other risk factors, and the timing of the last screening test.

“Breast cancer screening disparities are already evident and, without focused attention, are likely to increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Efforts to promote breast cancer screening and overcome barriers for populations with low screening prevalence must be at the forefront of our focus,” said Makaroff.

Many women get an annual mammogram for breast cancer screening.  However, leading organizations that issue screening guidelines recommend that average risk women ages 55 and older can be screened every two years. Women 55 or older who had a normal mammogram within the last year could choose to have their next mammogram up to 24 months after their last one.

As regular facilities for health care returns to providing cancer screening, it’s important that it is done as safely as possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommendations for health care facilities to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission:

  • Screening centers should be available to answer questions from patients via phone or web portal before and/or after the screening procedure.
  • Patients should be pre-screened for COVID-related symptoms before screening appointments.
  • Scheduling of appointments should allow for physical distancing between patients and longer appointment times, if needed, to avoid crowding in waiting rooms and patient care areas.
  • There should be limitations on visitors other than patients and/or their caregivers into the screening facility.
  • If not done in front of the patient, the screening center should be able to explain how often equipment and surfaces are disinfected and cleaned.
  • Everyone, including patients and staff, should wear a face covering or face mask, where appropriate. There should be frequent hand-washing and use of hand sanitizer by staff, patients and visitors.

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