New Study Warns of Negative Impact COVID-19 is Having on Cancer Screenings, Diagnosis and Treatment

Co-Authored by Florida Cancer Specialists Oncologists Lucio Gordan, MD and Michael Diaz, MD, Study Predicts Significant Increase in Late-Stage Cancers and Potentially More Cancer Deaths

President & Managing Physician Lucio Gordan, MD; Assistant Managing Physician Michael Diaz, MD
President & Managing Physician Lucio Gordan, MD; Assistant Managing Physician Michael Diaz, MD
President & Managing Physician Lucio Gordan, MD; Assistant Managing Physician Michael Diaz, MD

Fort Myers, Fla., Oct. 28, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Lucio Gordan, MD, President and Managing Physician of Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute (FCS) and FCS Assistant Managing Physician Michael Diaz, MD are co-authors of a new national study that details the devastating effect the COVID-19 crisis has had on cancer screenings, diagnosis and treatment. Conducted for the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) by Avalere Health and in collaboration with Debra Patt, MD, PhD, MBA, FASCO, executive vice president, policy and strategic initiatives at Texas Oncology, the study is scheduled to be published in the November issue of the journal JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics. Its findings show a substantial decrease in the number of cancer screenings, diagnosis and treatment for senior adults and Medicare beneficiaries in 2020.

Gordan, Diaz and colleagues were part of the study’s research team of oncologists who reported that they are already seeing patients being diagnosed with later stage cancers, which require more complex treatment and often result in higher morbidity and mortality rates. “In the early months of the pandemic,” Dr. Gordan explained, “many people chose or had to delay or even skip regular screenings, such as mammograms, prostate exam, PSA testing or colonoscopies, among others, for various types of cancer. This has resulted in later diagnoses for some patients and delays in beginning treatment. Oncologists are preparing their practices for significant impact in cancer patient outcomes due to these delays.”

Dr. Diaz, who also serves as President of COA, concurs. “If cancers are not diagnosed at an early stage, we could face rising death rates for several years to come,” he said. “It is critical that adults with a family history of cancer and others who may be experiencing symptoms do not delay their screenings for the fear of being exposed to or contracting coronavirus. Medical practices now have numerous strategies in place to protect the safety and health of patients, doctors, nurses and other staff members.”

One positive revealed in the study was the rapid adoption of telehealth and other strategies by community oncology practices, such as Florida Cancer Specialists. Dr. Gordan said, “Community oncologists and their team members showed incredible resilience and resolve to deal with this severe crisis, by adopting telehealth very quickly, reorganizing workflows, enhancing safety processes at their clinics, and migrating staff to work from home, among other strategies. Although a decrease in services was inevitable, the resolve of these practitioners and staff handled and avoided what could have been a much worse situation.”

The study concludes that further analysis will be needed to evaluate the ongoing consequences of COVID-19 and its probable long-term impact on cancer care and outcomes.

The full study can be found online

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Medical task force recommends lowering suggested age for colorectal screenings

The Task Force announced Tuesday morning their proposal to lower the suggested age for when to start colorectal screenings, moving it up five years, from 50, to 45 years old. The move may indicate a growing call for awareness and accelerate action amongst an age group that may not know they’re at risk.

“The prognosis is so much better if you catch it at an earlier stage,” Dr. Kimmie Ng, the director of the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told ABC News. “These new guidelines are hugely significant. They support and validate the alarming epidemiologic trends we’ve been seeing: This cancer is rising at about a rate of 2% per year, in people under the age of 50, since the 1990s.”

Colorectal cancer impacts the gastrointestinal system’s final segment. While lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., colorectal cancer comes second, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and yet, it remains one of the most treatable, even curable cancers, when caught in its early stages.

“Way too young” were the words resounding across the globe late this summer, when news broke that actor Chadwick Boseman, at just 43 years old, had died of colon cancer. Boseman had kept his long, difficult battle mostly private, but the shock of his loss was compounded by a common misconception: that the disease only strikes older people.

Even though overall incidence and mortality rates for colorectal cancer have decreased over the past few decades, colorectal cancer deaths among younger adults continue to climb. It’s a concerning trend, experts told ABC News, pointing out the importance of testing and early intervention.

PHOTO: A doctor speaks with a patient in this stock photo.

In 2018, the American Cancer Society updated their guidelines, recommending that those at average risk of colorectal cancer begin regular screening at age 45. Experts hope the Task Force’s update shines a light on the importance of the issue.

For years prior, screening was not generally recommended for the below-50 crowd. This led to potentially vulnerable, or even sick adults putting off testing thinking their symptoms did not rise to the level of firm diagnosis. Because of this lack of awareness, pernicious, possibly cancerous growths remained undetected for too long, experts say, and now, young patients are suffering from more advanced, harder to treat cancers.

“Cancer is simply not on their radar,” Ng said, speaking more specifically about colon cancer. “They’re otherwise young and healthy. So we need to emphasize that yes, this can happen in young people.”

Nearly 25% of screening-eligible Americans have never been screened for colon cancer, and yet, it is expected to cause over 53,000 American deaths this year alone. Of the roughly 148,000 individuals who will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2020, about 18,000 of

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Pediatric mental health screenings increasing, but need remains

The number of behavioral health screenings for children are increasing year-over-year, but experts said more can be done to catch mental health conditions early on, especially as they pose more of a risk to children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to data from the Connecticut Department of Social Services, behavioral health screenings billed to Medicaid for children aged four to 17 went up by 50,000 from 3,697 in 2013 to 53,756 in 2019. Similar screenings for children under the age of three went up from 27,992 to 73,262.

“I wish I could say it’s because of educating practices but the bottom line is those numbers are increasing as time goes on and more resources become available,” said Dr. David Krol, a pediatrician who is also vice president for health initiatives for the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut. “We’re seeing more pediatricians doing these screenings.”

Valerie Lepoutre, statewide peer recovery program manager for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Connecticut chapter, said screenings and loved ones keeping an eye out for mental illness in children is even more crucial as many experience new levels of stress given the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re constantly…saying to keep an eye out to how your child is responding and acting during this time and not dismiss it,” Lepoutre said. “We don’t know what the long-term effects will be and it could lead to other mental health challenges. Even if it goes away, it’s better to get help now.”

While behavioral health screenings and mental illness awareness are increasing, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported in a 2017 study that up to 20 percent of children experience a mental health disorder and many remain untreated. Lepoutre said that it can take up to a year for some mental illnesses to be diagnosed.

These delays are costly, not only in setting out a treatment plan, but for a patient’s physical health. Lepoutre said delays in diagnosis can lead to many patients not getting help for their mental illness until their 20s at which point many young adults are on their own insurance and may struggle with finding the time to navigate the behavioral health care system and to find a care team. Mental health can also take a toll on physical health, particularly if a child experiences trauma at a young age.

“This could cause other challenges for our generation ahead of us to see how are they physically handling the stress,” Lepoutre said. “Children are resilient but that post-traumatic growth is huge. We have to be mindful of negative consequences and effects this can have later in their lives.”

But there’s a number of ways experts are working to improve early detection. NAMI hosts educational programs, including one called “Ending the Silence” which is designed to teach teens the signs of mental illness.

Lepoutre said that many pediatricians only see patients once a year for wellness visits. This means it’s important to educate family, teachers and students of the signs of mental illness since they’re

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Porter dentist offers free oral cancer screenings for firefighters

As a thank you to local first responders, Porter Family Dentistry is offering free oral cancer screenings to firefighters in Montgomery County for the next several weeks.

The screenings will be held on Fridays when the office is usually closed so that firefighters don’t have to wait.

In 2016, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health published a multi-year study of cancer rates in firefighters, and the findings showed that firefighters had a higher number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths than the general U.S. population. Among the cancers found in the sample of nearly 30,000 firefighters, those most often found were digestive, oral, respiratory, and urinary cancers.

In recent months, firefighters across the country have been traveling to areas, like California, that their help is needed. Dr. Mustafa Yamani of Porter Family Dentistry went to school in California and has fond memories of the nature and beauty of the state.

“It’s such a beautiful place, it’s really sad reading all of the stuff in the news that’s going on there,” Yamani said. “From all around the country they (the firefighters) come together and they provide this service. It’s just amazing what they’re doing and I really appreciate that. I just want to do something for them.”


The generous act of the firefighters inspired him to give back, and since oral cancer screenings are a service his office already offers he decided to give them to firefighters for free.

While this is the first year that the dental office has offered free screenings, Yamani and his wife Sabrina, who is the office manager, plan on making it an annual thing. The trials of 2020 also helped them decide to give back.

“Things seem to be going from bad to worse, to even worse, and it just doesn’t seem to be stopping for our first responders,” Sabrina said. “They’re just being hit with things one after the other.”

Sabrina started by reaching out to fire departments in the east past of Montgomery County to let them know about the opportunity and the response was immediate and positive. Already, the dental office has screenings set up with local firefighters.

Because firefighters are at a higher risk of developing cancer, many departments take an aggressive approach to screenings and check-ups. Early detection is vital. Such is the approach of the East Montgomery County Fire Department where firefighters undergo a National Fire Protection Agency physicals annually.

“It’s huge to us,” Eran Denzler, captain and PIO with the department, said of being able to get the oral screenings for free. “It’s a great show of appreciation for what we do and the risks that we take. Every day we go and put our lives on the line for the community, and for them to give back and worry about our safety is something we’re not used to but it’s much appreciated.”

The department averages around one to two structure fires a week,

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