Hospitals halt elective surgeries while doctors urge patients not to skip routine cancer screenings

While local hospitals divert resources to care for COVID patients, outpatient surgery centers continue to perform routine cancer screenings – often categorized as “elective surgeries.”

Dr. David Schwimmer

Dr. David Schwimmer, one of Florida Digestive Health Specialists’ Sarasota-based gastroenterologists, said that curtailment of elective procedures can have a ripple effect on the rates of cancer.

“I think it will take years for us to fully realize the pandemic’s effect on cancer diagnoses, but for now we know that we’re seeing a higher proportion of individuals who delayed treatment due to the first wave of the pandemic presenting with colorectal cancer,” said Schwimmer. “Fortunately, outpatient surgery centers can offer a safe place for timely cancer screenings by following strict CDC guidelines to minimize the risk of COVID transmission.”

A model created by the National Cancer Institute predicts almost 10,000 excess deaths in the U.S. from breast and colorectal cancer over the next 10 years due to delayed screenings. And that report assumed that screenings would rebound in six months. A Lancet study conducted in the UK estimates a 15-16.6 percent increase in deaths from colorectal cancer over the next five years because of diagnostic delays.

“The label ‘elective procedure’ can be confusing for patients; people often think it means ‘optional’, which can be a deadly mistake,” said Schwimmer. “The number one way to prevent colorectal cancer – the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. – is timely screenings starting at the age of 45 for those at normal risk. These procedures save lives.”

Local outpatient center, the Center for Endoscopy, has stayed busy while hospitals were forced to halt down elective surgeries.

“It’s critical that our facility remains in operation because any delay in identification of any cancer is not in the best interest of the patient and early detection is key,” said Lance Shurter, BHS, CST, administrator at Center for Endoscopy, an outpatient surgery center. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, not only have we been following the normal infection control protocols we’ve amped up safety precautions for both patients and staff.”

Colorectal cancer stats
  • The American Cancer Society’s estimates 104,270 new cases of colon cancer and 45,230 new cases of rectal cancer in 2021.
  • While colorectal cancer incidence rates in people 55 years or older are consistently dropping, rates are increasing by 2% each year in those younger than 55.
  • In fact, 11% of colon cancer diagnoses and 18% of rectal cancer diagnoses occur in those under 50.
  • Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women.
  • In the United States, colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths when men and women are combined.