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The pandemic has disrupted preventive health care. Here's how to get back on track

Marie McCullough, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

Have you overlooked or postponed your health checkups during the unending 20-month pandemic?

A new study suggests that U.S. cancer diagnoses have declined because of pandemic-related upheaval. The average monthly number of newly identified cases of eight types of cancer plunged almost 30% during the early pandemic shutdowns, then rebounded when medical practices reopened — but fell again last winter by 19%.

Skipping screenings and checkups could lead to diagnosis of cancer at later stages, which could lead to poorer outcomes, the study authors wrote last month in JAMA Network Open.

And it’s not just cancer. The pandemic has disrupted diagnosis and preventive care of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, depression, and many other conditions, especially for those who struggled to access quality care before the pandemic.

“We know that COVID-19 unfortunately shed a light on the many disparities in health care that existed — and then it added another,” said Delana Wardlaw, a Temple Health primary care physician who was named 2020 Pennsylvania Family Physician of the Year. “People who have poorly controlled or undiagnosed illness are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 and death.”

A year ago, Wardlaw and her twin sister, pediatrician Elana McDonald, launched TwinSisterDocs — accessible at TheTwinSisterDocs.com, and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — to promote wellness, self-advocacy, and address health disparities in the underserved communities where they have worked for two decades.

 

Jefferson Health’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center also recently launched an effort to better serve vulnerable populations in the Philadelphia region: a mobile cancer screening van funded with a $1.4 million gift from Dietz & Watson, the delicatessen meat maker. Initially, the mobile unit is offering mammograms to detect breast cancer, but will eventually offer screening for prostate, head and neck, and skin cancers. It will also connect patients to cancer resources, such as smoking cessation programs and cancer clinical trials.

If you have no particular pains or problems, it is easy to adopt the attitude that “it’s not broken, so don’t fix it.” But a healthier attitude is, “You can’t fix what you don’t know about.”

Here is a rundown of preventive health screenings you should get, even in a pandemic:

CANCER

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