World Cancer Day: How COVID-19 has affected care

February is National Cancer Prevention Month and a good time to learn about prevention

February is National Cancer Prevention Month. Also, Friday is World Cancer Day, which is a global initiative to raise awareness, improve education and promote action to create a cancer-free world.

Cancer has not rested during the COVID-19 pandemic, as is evident by the number of people diagnosed since 2020. Research published by the National Institutes of Health suggests that delayed screening during the pandemic has led to thousands of deaths and made cancers more difficult to treat when they are discovered.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed access to health care worldwide, and these changes may have long-term consequences for those diagnosed with cancer.

“Screening for cancer had been put off, leading to patients getting diagnosed at later stages and not having the same outcomes as we would expect for those cancers,” said Dr. Sikander Ailawadhi, a Mayo Clinic hematologist and oncologist.

Ailawadhi said patients who have cancer and are undergoing treatment need to have a care plan in place related to COVID-19.

“If these patients who have a compromised immune system do get COVID-19 infection, they’re more likely to have a more severe disease from COVID-19,” Ailawadhi said.

A COVID-19 infection also can disrupt treatment and further affect outcomes. But Ailawadhi said what has improved during the pandemic is telemedicine and the ability to connect with patients remotely.

“That has provided another opportunity to patients to access health care while not getting exposed to a lot of risk ― and in some cases access to experts who they may not have access to in person,” Ailawadhi said.

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This is a good time to learn about what you can do to reduce your risk of developing cancer.

The advice on preventing cancer can be confusing. It may seem to change, and sometimes a cancer prevention tip recommended in one study is contradicted by another study.

In many cases, what is known about cancer prevention is still evolving. However, it’s well-accepted that your chances of developing cancer are affected by your lifestyle. A few simple lifestyle changes can make a difference in your risk of developing many types of cancer, including lung, breast, colon, prostate, cervical and skin cancers.

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If you’re concerned about reducing your risk of developing cancer, here are seven prevention tips to consider:

  • Don’t use tobacco.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active.
  • Protect yourself from the sun.
  • Get vaccinated for hepatitis B and HPV.
  • Avoid risky behaviors. This includes practicing safe sex and not sharing needles.
  • Get regular medical care.

Connect with others talking about preventing cancer and living well with cancer in the cancer support group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic.

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