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The effect of covid – 19 on cancer care hits close to home


Fear of covid-19 is real for cancer survivors, delaying their return to routine cancer screenings or follow-up appointments

My grandfather passed away from prostate cancer at the age of 56. He was diagnosed very late, and he was gone far too quickly. Back then, cancer wasn’t something people talked about because there was so little we could do. But times have changed. We live in a world where early diagnosis is possible, and where new, breakthrough treatments are emerging every year. These advances are not only prolonging life, they’re also improving the lives of people with cancer.[1]

In my nearly 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry, I have seen many positive changes firsthand which have resulted in the decrease of deaths related to cancer.[2] But today, our progress is threatened. Covid-19 represents an unprecedented obstacle in cancer care that could hamper the advancements we have made by causing delays or cancelations of cancer screenings and routine follow-ups.

As the pandemic has worn on, several of our partners—including patient advocacy organizations and healthcare professionals—shared their concern about this looming public health issue. The questions they received from patients were often similar to those we had heard: Is there a safe way to get a routine cancer screening? Can doctors keep their offices and patients safe from covid-19? Is it really a big deal if I delay a follow-up appointment until things get back to normal?

The numbers tell a story of doubt, fear and risk

Around the country, doctors and hospitals are reporting an alarming drop in non-covid-19 patient visits, including vital cancer screenings and follow-up appointments.[3] These checkups, such as mammograms, colonoscopies and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests, have gone down in significant numbers since the start of the covid-19 pandemic.[4],[5]

Cancer screenings and follow-up appointments play a critical role in early detection.[6] Experts warn that delaying these opportunities for intervention could result in more late-stage diagnoses with worse prognoses.[7] We’ve already missed so much in the fight against covid-19—birthdays, holidays, moments with family and friends—it is heartbreaking to think there could be more we stand to lose.

We must take action. Our fears in the face of covid-19 are more than understandable. But as a family member and friend to multiple cancer survivors and the leader of Pfizer’s North America Oncology organization, I knew more had to be done. And, I knew our colleagues would rally to the effort.

When we commit to cancer care, we’re committing to saving lives

There is too much at stake. Where it is safe to do so, we must keep up with cancer screenings and follow-up appointments during covid-19. Right now, doctor’s offices, hospitals and clinics around the country likely have implemented guidance to make visiting safer; from wearing masks to temperature checks, increased sanitation and social distancing, to the use of virtual visits and telehealth.[8]

To help spark a conversation between people and their doctors, Pfizer, in partnership with members of the cancer community, launched the Get it Done initiative.

Resources that add up to more confidence

At GetCancerScreened.com, people will find tools and resources to guide the conversation with their doctor and help prepare them for their appointments, either in-person or via telehealth. These materials were informed by our patient advocacy and oncologist partners, including Cancer Support CommunityZero, National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, Living Beyond Breast Cancer and more.

We hope raising much-needed awareness and providing access to resources will give people the confidence they need to speak with their doctors about continuing their cancer screenings and follow-up appointments during the unprecedented challenge of      covid-19 and beyond.

I encourage others to join us in spreading the message about the importance of screenings and follow-up appointments during this time. By not letting fear keep us from continuing our cancer care, we hope to give families and friends more moments and more memories with the people they love.

The content is paid for and supplied by advertiser. The Washington Post newsroom was not involved in the creation of this content.


[1] National Cancer Institute. Cancer Screening Over PDQ – patient version. June 6 2020. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/screening/patient-screening-overview-pdq

[2] National Cancer Institute. Cancer Statistics. December 14 2020. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics

[3] Ziedan, E. et. al Effects of State COVID-19 Closure Policy on NON-COVID-19 Health Care Utilization. National Bureau of Economic Research. Published July 2020. Accessed November 3, 2020. https://www.nber.org/papers/w27621

[4] Mast C, MD; Munoz del Rio A, PhD. Delayed Cancer Screenings—A Second Look. Epic Health Research Network Web site. Published July 17, 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://ehrn.org/articles/delayed-cancer-screenings-a-second-look.

[5] McLaughlin, K. The Pandemic’s Impact on Cancer Screening and Detection. Cancer Today Magazine Web site. Published July 28, 2020. Accessed October 30, 2020. https://www.cancertodaymag.org/Pages/cancer-talk/The-Pandemics-Impact-on-Cancer-Screening-and-Detection.aspx.

[6] National Cancer Institute. Cancer Screening. NCI Web site. Updated April 9, 2018. Accessed November 3, 2020. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/screening

[7] Sharpless, N. COVID-19 and cancer. Science. Published June 19, 2020. Accessed November 3, 2020. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/368/6497/1290

[8] CDC Get Your Clinic Ready for Coronavirus Disease 2019. October 5th 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/Clinic.pdf.


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