PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Many doctors are concerned we could see a surge in the diagnosis of advanced cancers later this year and beyond.

A recent report from the American Cancer Society estimates nearly two million new cancer cases this year, however, the estimates do not account for the unknown impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer diagnoses and deaths.

Doctors fear that missed cancer screenings and delays in medical care may result in patients coming in with more advanced cancers.

Patricia Ottaviano of Virginia Beach recently found out she has stage two lung cancer.

“I had no symptoms, I had no shortness of breath, I had no cough, I had nothing,” she told WAVY.

Otaviano considers herself lucky because she asked for a screening, which caught the tumor relatively early.
That’s not the case for everyone, according to Dr. Gradon Nielsen with Virginia Oncology Associates.

“There’s certainly going to be an increase of people who present with an advanced cancer because of missing screenings, ” he said.

The pandemic’s impact on lung cancer screening is not yet known. However, the CDC reports sharp declines in other cancer screenings since COVID-19. Mammograms dropped 87% in April of 2020 when the pandemic began; cervical cancer screenings were down 84%. A study in the ACS Journals reports colonoscopies decreased 45% in 2020.

Nielsen said while screening tests have bounced back a bit, they have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“I think it’s going to take many years to convince people to get back to that, just because so many people are now out of the habit,” he said.

That could cost patients a lot of time and money — if not their lives.

“If you have a more advanced cancer you get to the point where you may need months or even indefinite chemotherapy,” Neilsen explained.

Ottaviano believes that if she had waited to feel symptoms, it might’ve been too late.

Nielsen said the sooner cancer is caught, the better the outcome. So, if you’ve been putting off a screening or check-up, there’s no better time to make up for it than now.