In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, as people avoided doctor’s offices and hospitals canceled unnecessary appointments, routine cancer screenings fell sharply. We are now beginning to see the consequences.
ProPublica tells the story of Teresa Ruvalcaba, a factory worker in Chicago who for six months ignored her chest pain. She was busy with work and was afraid to catch COVID-19 in the doctor’s office, and when she finally went to the emergency department, she was diagnosed with advanced inflammatory breast cancer. This was one of the worst cases seen by oncologist Pam Hosla in a decade.
Cancer mortality has fallen by more than 30 percent since the early 1
She recently counted at least 10 cases of advanced cancer over a four-week period. He saw a patient with a grapefruit-sized table on his neck. Another, whose tumor had pressed his brain dangerously close to his skull, was transferred to a hospice. “He never managed to see the light of the treatment,” Hosla said. All of these patients were afraid to seek hospital treatment during the pandemic.
It takes years before we see the full extent of the damage caused by delays in cancer treatment caused by a pandemic. The National Cancer Institute predicts this delays diagnosing breast and colon cancer will lead to about 10,000 unnecessary deaths over the next decade.
The history of Ruvalcaba adds face to the impersonal statistics on diagnosis delays and shows vivid details of how the pulsating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to have a silent impact on families across the country for years.
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