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Study: Cancer numbers declining due to people not getting screened, warns patients can have worse outcomes

If you aren't looking, you won't find it. Although diagnoses are down according to the study, the researchers say this isn't good news.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A new study shows a decline in cancer diagnoses over the past two years, but it’s not what it sounds like. Researchers say it’s not good news.

If you aren’t looking for something, you can’t find it. That’s what researchers say their data boils down to. 

During the height of COVID-19, the study found many people didn't go to a doctor’s office for regular cancer screenings.

The study looked at data from the VA – which is the largest healthcare system in the country. The four most common cancers in that population are prostate, lung, bladder and colorectal. 

They compared the 2020 data to baseline years 2018-19. They found “the disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to substantial reductions in new cancers being diagnosed.”

They found a drastic decrease in cancer diagnostics and screening procedures in early 2020, and even when people began going to the doctor again, there was a backlog.

“What we are afraid we’ll be seeing is patients coming in with more advanced disease, potentially needing urgent surgery because of complications and things that really were avoidable if you'd just done the screening in the first place," said Dr. Peter Ghali with UF Health Jacksonville Gastroenterology. 

He says people 45 and older are recommended to get a colonoscopy. As long as your test is clear, he says you only need one once a decade. 

If you have symptoms though, don't wait. Michelle Otto can testify to that. 

I met Otto where she was diagnosed with colon cancer nearly four years ago.

“I was 38 when I was diagnosed," she said. "In 2016, I had stomach pains and tiredness, but having two little ones running, around I expected to be tired on certain days. But then in the latter part of 2016, the pain just became unbearable. I also had blood in my stool, which is an indicator for cancer.”

She delayed care, and by the time she went to a doctor, she had stage 4 colon cancer.

She has been cancer free for nearly four years now.

“Actually 90% of people will survive if we catch them early enough," Ghali said.

Ghali says patients have been reluctant to come in.

“If you screen fewer people, you’re going to find fewer cancers," Ghali said. "What that doesn’t mean is that there are fewer cancers.”

Ghali says colonoscopies are recommended for those 45 and older. But if you have symptoms like Otto, it doesn’t matter your age.

“You feel humbled. I basically feel like I got a second chance," Otto said. "Go get checked. If you are having any symptoms, any unhealthy feeling, make sure you get it checked.”

Ghali says they can often catch issues in your colon before it ever turns to cancer, and many times if you wait until your symptoms are severe, the cancer will also be. 

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