Written by John Ferrari
The COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, but that doesn’t mean we
cannot continue to take care our our everyday health issues. As medical
professionals have pointed out, getting the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t
make you immortal. Now is the time to address any health needs you may
have put off for the past year, starting with routine screenings and examinations.
Why? Because routine care can keep small issues from turning into big problems.
“Regular visits with your primary care physician are the best way
to catch problems that could be creeping up,” explains internal
medicine and primary care physician
Rumi Cader, MD. “We don’t want you to have to see an oncologist with late-stage
disease. If we catch malignancy early on, chances for a cure are much
When COVID-19 hit Southern California, “there was a huge drop-off
in outpatient visits—especially mammograms, colonoscopies and screenings
for osteoporosis,” Dr. Cader says. Based on your age and family
history, those screenings may not need to be conducted every year. Others
are routine annual checks, including tests for cholesterol and blood pressure
levels, and pelvic exams for women. Together these screenings cover the
most common diseases affecting Americans—and the leading causes of death.
Torrance Memorial also emphasizes preventive tests for individuals with
risk factors, including anemia and lung cancer screenings. Consider diabetes.
“If we catch someone in a prediabetic state, we can prevent them
from developing diabetes with diet and lifestyle changes, not medications,”
Dr. Cader says.
Screenings for colorectal, breast and cervical cancer are similarly beneficial,
Thomas Lowe, MD. “Colonoscopies are highly effective because they detect polyps
before they turn into cancer,” he explains.
Those polyps can be removed during the colonoscopy, preventing a likely
cancer from developing—important because young-age colorectal cancer—younger
than age 50—is one of the few types of cancer increasing in incidence
(along with nonalcoholic liver cancer and human papillomavirus-related
cancers). To address this, the recommended initial screening age for colonoscopies
was recently lowered from 50 to 45.
Even before the pandemic, Dr. Lowe says, only 60% of individuals recommended
to have colonoscopies did so—and the number of colonoscopies decreased
90% during the pandemic. The drop in colonoscopies and other preventive
screenings during the pandemic was “unfortunately necessary,”
he says, “but that has ramifications down the road,” including
an estimated 10,000 extra cancer deaths due to delayed screenings.
Approximately 1 in 20 individuals will get colorectal cancer at some point
during their life, Dr. Lowe says, and approximately one in seven women
will get breast cancer. Both types of cancer have very high cure rates
if they are caught early, through colonoscopies and mammograms.
“We are seeing more new cancers now,” Dr. Lowe says. “This
suggests more people are coming in to take care of screenings they put
off during the pandemic. This was a necessary consequence of the pandemic—having
to push back care. Now is the time to get back on it, now that we’re
well on the way to coming out of the pandemic—especially for those
who are vaccinated. Our surgeons are going above and beyond to accommodate
patients who did put off screenings.”
“Decreased preventive screening leads, unfortunately, to undiagnosed
issues,” agrees Dr. Cader. For some patients, those issues may lead
to health emergencies. The message is simple: Don’t put off medical care!
“Fear is understandable,” Dr. Cader says. “No one likes
to think they’re having a stroke or heart attack, and during the
pandemic people didn’t want to risk coming in to the emergency department
and potentially being exposed to COVID-19. But we want that patient to
come in, to call 911. A stroke or heart attack is much more dangerous
than anything else.”
The symptoms of a stroke are clear: slurred speech and sudden weakness
in the body. Similarly, sudden chest pain can signify a heart attack.
Colorectal cancer may not entail a visit to Torrance Memorial’s
emergency department, but some symptoms—including rectal bleeding,
unexplained rapid weight loss or a change in bowel habits—mean you
should see your primary care physician as soon as possible.
With COVID-19 cases decreasing, “people should be able to come in
and take care of what they need to do,” Dr. Cader says. “Go
to regular visits with your primary care physician. If you don’t
have one, establish a relationship. We’re here to save lives, and
we want to save lives.”
Rumi Cader, MD, is a primary care physician at
Torrance Memorial Physician Network, 3701 Skypark Drive, Suite 100, Torrance, 310-378-2234. Thomas Lowe, MD,
is an oncology specialist at
Torrance Memorial Physician Network Cancer Care, 3285 Skypark Drive, Torrance, 310-750-3300.