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Banner Health reports drop in cancer diagnoses during virus pandemic

(Getty Images/Joe Raedle)

PHOENIX — Following a national trend, there has been a decrease in cancer diagnoses at Banner Health facilities across the Valley during the coronavirus pandemic.

A nationwide study released last week found cancer diagnoses were down by 46.4% for six common types of cancers: breast, colorectal, lung, pancreatic, gastric and esophageal. That drop occurred during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic.

“At Banner MD Anderson and other Banner facilities, we’ve noticed a similar dramatic decrease in cancer diagnoses,” said Dr. Vilert Loving, chief of breast imaging at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.

He said the biggest drop has been for breast cancer, similar to the nationwide study. It found breast cancer diagnoses dropped 51.8%, the most than any other cancer. Pancreatic cancer saw the smallest drop at 24.7%.

“We’re attributing this dramatic decrease of cancer diagnoses to people, justifiably so, being afraid,” Loving said. “They’re afraid of coronavirus. They’re afraid of getting the infection, and so they’re staying at home. That’s leading to a dramatic decrease in screenings.”

Cancer screenings are down at Banner facilities across the Valley, though the exact numbers weren’t readily available. This includes mammogram screenings, lung cancer screenings and colonoscopies.

The drop in screenings has Loving concerned that some people, even those with symptoms, are delaying seeing a doctor and taking longer to get treatment.

“I think the most important message for those patients to know is that, unfortunately, cancer doesn’t stop,” he said.

“Coronavirus has put a pause on a lot of aspects of our life across the world, really,” he added. “But, unfortunately, cancer is not one of those. And we do know that cancer continues to progress for people that have it.”

Loving stressed early detection through cancer screenings provides the best chance of effective treatment.

“For cancer diagnoses that are delayed, the concern is that we’re going to find more advanced cancers down the line in the future, and that’s going to lead to more cancer deaths,” he said.

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