Why you shouldn’t delay cancer screenings.

by MedStar Health
May 6, 2021

In 2020, cancer diagnoses plummeted by 50%, as many people delayed routine physicals and cancer screenings that have been proven to save lives, according to the National Cancer Institute. For Steffanie Sheppard, a routine mammogram saved her life and she hopes her story will encourage others to stop delaying these life-saving screenings.

In 2020, cancer diagnoses dropped by 50% because people delayed screenings that can detect cancer early when it’s treatable. Here’s why a routine screening could save your life: https://bit.ly/3h7gd5O.

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Steffanie’s story: Celebrating 70 years of life after successful breast cancer treatment.

Steffanie Sheppard of Prince George’s County got to celebrate a birthday she didn’t think she would have. After a recurrence of breast cancer in her liver, Sheppard feared the worst and gave away many of her personal belongings to family and friends.

After receiving targeted therapy at MedStar Health, her cancer is now in remission.

“I had very few side effects from my treatment. I feel great and I’m really enjoying myself now,” Steffanie says.

Now that her cancer is gone, Steffanie’s reclaiming many of the personal belongings that she gave away when she was first diagnosed. “I reached out to my family and asked them to return my boots and purses and other things, which they were more than happy to do,” said Steffanie. On a recent trip to the hospital, the cancer center team at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center decided to throw a birthday surprise for Stephanie complete with balloons, flowers, and cupcakes.

“It is befitting of the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute because they care about me as the whole person. I never would have thought that people who just met me a few short months ago would help me celebrate my 70th birthday,” Stephanie said. “The cancer center team at the hospital always makes me feel like I’m the only patient, like I’m special.”

Watch this video of Steffanie’s birthday surprise from her MedStar Health care team:

“It was truly gratifying to be able to induce her remission without the toxicity of traditional chemotherapy,” said Steffanie’s oncologist Eric Rubenstein, MD, medical director of cancer services at MedStar Southern Maryland. “I also felt grateful to have had the technology to diagnose her cancer remotely and to have the resources of the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute to arrange care with the clinicians from all the disciplines needed to direct her treatment in the best possible way. Most importantly, I felt fortunate to be graced by Steffanie’s lively, transparent, and joyful spirit. Her attitude and outlook definitely helped us to succeed.”

Now, Steffanie’s encouraging all women to not delay their regular breast cancer screenings and check-ups. “It’s really important that women take care of their bodies and know the signs and symptoms of their bodies. When they don’t have the answers, go get the answers.”

Regular cancer screenings increase your chance of early detection and a cure.

Cancer screenings are critical to finding and diagnosing cancer early when it is more easily treated. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many people canceled or delayed scheduling important screenings for breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, and others. As a result, oncologists predict an increase in mortality rates from cancer in the next decade, as many people who have cancer may not be diagnosed until a later stage when it’s harder to treat and less likely to be cured.

During a cancer screening, a doctor uses advanced imaging to evaluate certain parts of the body. A mammogram, for example, takes a detailed X-ray image of the breasts, allowing cancer experts to detect breast cancer long before it can be felt. This early detection is your best chance of survival if you are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Similarly, lung cancer screening tests can find lung nodules before lung cancer symptoms appear. While lung nodules are often harmless, they can grow into lung cancer. If they’re found during a screening, your doctor will recommend follow-up testing and surveillance to ensure they don’t develop into cancer. If they do, you can rest assured that you’ll have more treatment options than if you waited to seek a lung cancer diagnosis until after it spread to other parts of the body. In fact, people who are diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer experience a 27 to 61 percent five-year survival rate, depending on the type of lung cancer. In contrast, once lung cancer has spread to both lungs or surrounding organs in later stages, the five-year survival rate is only 3 to 6 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

During a colonoscopy, doctors use a flexible tube attached to a small camera to search for and remove abnormal growths in the colon called polyps. Polyps aren’t cancerous but when left in the colon, some types of polyps can develop into cancerous tumors. Removing any polyps during a screening before they have a chance to turn into cancer eliminates your risk of colon cancer. Because doctors can remove any signs of polyps during the screening test, you can leave the appointment reassured that you won’t have to come back for an additional procedure until your next screening.

When to start cancer screenings.

It’s important to start cancer screenings early before you notice any signs or symptoms of cancer. Your primary care provider can recommend when to start certain types of screenings, depending on your risk factors or family history. If you don’t meet screening criteria, it’s important to continue getting regular physical exams from your primary care provider, even during the pandemic.

Many screenings are free or low-cost and only take minutes of your time. That’s time well spent if it means adding decades back to your life. Just ask Steffanie.

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Category: Living Well, Success Stories     Tags: breast cancerbreast cancer screeningcancercancer preventioncancer screeningcolon cancerlung cancerlung cancer screening