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Pandemic cancer screening delays likely to cause excess deaths

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In December, KX News reported preventative cancer screenings nationwide were down between 85% and 95% during the pandemic.

Local oncologists say things were no different in North Dakota.

Screenings have picked back up at this point, according to Bismarck Cancer Center Radiation Oncologist Dr. Robert Reynolds, but there are long-term consequences from the delay.

He says with patients that missed screenings last year, the Cancer Center is finding that they’re coming back in now with more advanced disease than what would normally be expected.

The facility is seeing a higher rate of cancers spreading to the brain than they have in years.

The Director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, Dr. Ned Sharpless, predicts there could be around 10,000 excess deaths in the next 10 years due to this setback.

“I absolutely agree. I think, even in the next year, we’ll see excess deaths compared to what we would’ve had,” Dr. Reynolds added.

“And I think COVID is very important, and the deaths are certainly real, but I think it’s going to be very difficult to estimate the number of deaths that are actually a result of poor screening or poor access to care for patients.”

Dr. Reynolds emphasizes that many cancers, including colon, breast and lung cancers, are detectable early on, and these screenings save lives.

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