Norman Sharpless, MD, the director of the National Cancer Institute, has projected that there will likely be 10,000 additional deaths related to breast and colorectal cancer over the next 10 years due to decreases in screening and prevention during the pandemic.

From a recent McKinsey study, once the immediate and direct impact of COVID-19 in a particular geography has passed, the effects from deferred care will likely create new challenges for individuals and the healthcare system that could increase annual costs in the United States between $30 billion and $65 billion.

There are a number of screenings men and women should have throughout their lives, as well as additional tests that should be completed after the age of 50. For men, these include colon cancer, high blood cholesterol and pressure, and diabetes, among others. For women, cervical cancer, breast cancer, and osteoporosis, to name a few. The CDC offers more resources on preventative screenings for adults 50-64 years of age here.

Here are three things we can do to get us back on track with screenings and preventative tests this year:

  1. Re-examine your health and get back to doctors and dentists. With the vaccine becoming more widely available, now is the time to get back to those annual check-ups, get vaccinated, and have preventative screenings. Office and hospital staff should continue to check patients’ temperatures upon entering the building, provide masks and other safety measures to be sure that everyone is safe.
  2. Start losing weight that was gained during this period of inactivity. Many of us tried to stay on track with exercise and healthy eating but fell into various ruts over the last year. 61 percent of adults in the U.S. report undesired changes in weight since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Now is the time to re-join your gym or recreational facility, or just find ways to be active outdoors.
  3. Make sure that your mental health is good. Feelings of fear, worry, sadness, loneliness, and a general feeling of anxiety has driven many Americans into depression since the start of the pandemic. Now that the pandemic seems to be in regression, it is more important than ever to reach out to loved ones about these feelings. If you are experiencing similar emotions yourself, it is never too late to ask for help or seek out a professional.

Consumers put off having elective surgery, going to the dentist, doing an in person visit to their primary care physician and doing basic healthcare testing, such as mammograms, prostate, and colorectal cancer screenings. Telehealth is a good short-term solution to visiting with your provider. However, getting tested in person or via at-home testing is critical.

Returning to normalcy is going to be difficult but necessary. The longer we wait to visit our primary care physicians to get these preventative tests and screenings, as Dr. Sharpless has said, the worse the long-term effects will be. Now is the time to reach out to your physician, dentist, or therapist and get back on track with your mental and physical health goals. Employers, health plans and government agencies should take a proactive approach regarding health literacy. Introducing at-home testing options will also protect employees as they look to return to the office.

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