Why Timely Medical Screenings Save Lives

Why Timely Medical Screenings Save Lives

For most of us, life after March 2020 has differed from life before then. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of our lives.

COVID-19 is a disease that’s sickened and killed millions of people worldwide. Its contagious nature prompted lockdowns and changes in the ways people work, learn, entertain, and do basically everything. Wearing masks and practicing different forms of hygiene went from rare to normal (or almost normal).

Medicine has undergone several changes, big and small. COVID-19 itself has placed and is placing huge burdens on health care practitioners to treat its immediate and long-term effects. It’s continuing to use medical resources to lessen its impact or prevent it from occurring entirely.

Because COVID-19 and the pandemic have taken such large amounts of attention and resources, it’s affecting other areas of medicine. Other conditions still occur and are occurring, even during a global pandemic.

It appears that people might not be receiving screenings they need to detect and address certain conditions. But not receiving these tests could change lives–and end them.

What’s the status of cancer screenings?

Screenings for certain types of cancer decreased significantly during the pandemic.

According to a November 2022 research letter published in JAMA Oncology, a cross-sectional study found that screening and diagnosing levels for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer were lower in the early days of the pandemic than they were before.

Screenings for cervical cancer declined 94% in early 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Colorectal cancer screenings dropped 86% in early 2020 compared to early 2019.

After the initial stages of the pandemic, these screening levels rebounded, but declined as the pandemic worsened again. Researchers also discovered declines in the prevalence rates for cancer in 2020 and 2021. Prevalence is a measure of how many people have a specific condition or disease in a certain population at a given time.

Have screenings for other conditions declined?

The detection and treatment of other conditions also declined during the pandemic.

One study monitored two large health care institutions from February through May 2020. It tracked changes relating to tests related to LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and A1C screening, a blood test that diagnoses diabetes and measures blood sugar levels over time. This test is also known as an HbA1c test or a hemoglobin A1C.

As part of the study, researchers also examined the start medication regimens to manage diabetes or lower patients’ risk of cardiovascular events.

Researchers found that during February-March 2020, rates of new medication therapy and testing dropped dramatically for both conditions. Testing rates declined by 81-90%, while new pharmaceutical therapy dropped by 52-60%.

Just like cancer-related tests, people weren’t receiving the screenings for diabetes and LDL cholesterol that they were receiving before the pandemic. Even if doctors did diagnose conditions, fewer people were receiving the medication they needed to treat them.

Why are screenings important for overall physical health?

As the pandemic and many of its restrictions have eased, people might think that all is well, that even if they didn’t receive medical screenings before, they could do so now with no adverse effects.

If people are generally healthy, delayed tests, examinations, and medical assistance might seem more inconvenient than dangerous.

But people don’t always remain healthy. Many conditions, even deadly ones, don’t have noticeable symptoms.

Certain types of cancer are sometimes known as silent cancers because people don’t know they have them and doctors sometimes don’t diagnose them early.

These types of cancer include colorectal, breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and lung cancer. If people have a family history of these conditions or other risk factors, they might receive screenings for them.

But testing for breast and colorectal cancers declined early in the pandemic as health providers scrambled to treat surging numbers of COVID-19 cases before the condition had vaccines or treatments.

Early testing for various conditions has multiple health benefits. Some tests diagnose and treat issues immediately, such as examinations that find and remove polyps from the colon (part of the large intestine).

When doctors diagnose conditions early, there’s a better chance that their patients’ conditions haven’t spread to their lymph nodes or throughout their bodies. Their cancers could be smaller.

Doctors often categorize cancer as a series of four progressive stages. Stage one is the smallest, most contained type of the disease. Stage four cancer has spread to another part of the body.

Smaller, more contained cases might be easier to treat, and their treatment might be more effective. But it’s not always easy to spot smaller cancers, which indicates why early screening is so important.

How could timely screenings impact mental health?

While overall physical health is the most important, timely medical screening also provides other benefits.

Mental health is one. Given all that’s happened since March 2020, peace of mind isn’t always available. The pandemic has burdened our mental health systems just as it has taxed our other health resources.

But medical screenings that are clear, negative, and don’t reveal any problems could offer a little comfort in a chaotic world.

Even tests that reveal abnormalities could provide some psychological benefits. While initial diagnoses might create fear and uncertainty, they could still reassure. They could acknowledge that people are actually experiencing problems (that they’re not imagining things) and could also provide ideas for solving them.

Tests that indicate that people might have an increased risk of certain conditions could alert patients to future issues. Patients might make lifestyle changes or undergo other tests to prevent possible problems from occurring, which could give them control and agency over conditions that could otherwise seem frightening.

What are some other benefits of early testing?

Not catching a disease early also means that it’s more likely that it has progressed and is more severe and more difficult to treat.

Advanced health problems typically require more medical assistance. This additional medical assistance is often more expensive for individual patients as well as their health insurance providers and programs.

Medical tests thus save lives–and money. In fact, if you’re concerned about your finances, contact MediGroup for information on vendors to help with these types of screenings. We’ll help you find ways to save money while delivering quality medical care.

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