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Sharp decline in cancer screenings concerns Intermountain doctors

Posted at 4:56 PM, Mar 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 18:56:08-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Doctors at Intermountain Healthcare are concerned about a drop in routine cancer screenings.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic colonoscopy screenings have dropped about 50 percent.

“It’s been overwhelming for patients and caregivers and clinicians with everything going on with COVID,” said Dr. Nathan Merriman.

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Dr. Merriman believes the stress of the pandemic caused many patients to delay or cancel screenings.

Not surprisingly, the sharp drop in screenings has led to doctors seeing an increase of patients experiencing advanced stages of colorectal cancer.

“We’ve seen a 15 percent increase in the rate of stage 3 colon cancer,” said Dr. Mark Lewis, an oncologist. “When cancer is spreading and being captured in the lymph nodes, it's almost inevitable I am going to recommend chemotherapies.”

People are advised to begin routine screenings for the disease once they reach age 45.

Symptoms like bloody stools, prolonged abdominal pain, and unexplained weight loss are all reasons to immediately schedule an appointment with a doctor.

“None of this stuff is easy to talk about to your primary care physician, but that's the reason we have primary care health providers is to help you,” Dr. Lewis said.

While the conversation may be difficult and the procedure uncomfortable, catching the disease early and before it is allowed to spread can be life saving.

“This is largely a preventable illness and we can certainly intervene at earlier stages before you need someone like me,” Dr. Lewis said. “In my practice, I am almost exclusively seeing later stages of colorectal cancer.”

Doctors add recent medical advancements have made the colonoscopy procedure tolerable.