Cancer screenings still essential in midst of pandemic

Local News

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – With the nation focused on COVID, doctors are worried people may be forgetting about another deadly disease – cancer.

When elective procedures were paused at the start of the pandemic, cancer screenings were included in that list. With breast cancer awareness month only a few days away, medical experts are reemphasizing the importance of making those routine appointments and getting checked out.

For April Biggs, her first warning sign was a lump in her breast, something passed off as a swollen lymph node after an ultrasound. But months later, it was at her yearly physical when the bump was brought back up, and doctors discovered something was seriously wrong.

“They did another ultrasound,” Biggs remembers, “and said, ‘I think we need to biopsy this.”

What came back was stage four breast cancer, something Biggs never would have caught if she didn’t speak up for her health and follow through with that appointment.

Dr. Rhonda Henry-Tillman at UAMS has seen cases like Bigg’s before, cancers caught during a check-up or routine mammogram.

“Breast cancer screenings save lives,” she emphasized. 

But at the start of the pandemic, screenings and elective procedures were shut down for two months as COVID ran rampant, something doctors say a year later can’t be missed.

“A lot of conditions we can treat and improve outcomes just by knowing they exist,” Henry-Tillman said. 

While more people are returning to the doctor’s office as COVID runs its course, breast cancer awareness month is reminding women of how much a simple test can do, with Biggs a real-life example.

Because of her diagnosis, Bigg’s sisters had their first baseline mammogram. For one of them, the procedure discovered a lump in her breast, the early stages of breast cancer. The diagnosis lead to a double mastectomy and a clean bill of health – something that could have been caught much later if it wasn’t for Bigg’s own diagnosis and her push to have her siblings screened. 

“I have been able to save my sister’s life with this,” Biggs said. “I just recommend getting a mammogram as soon as you can.”

It’s not just breast cancer that has screenings. Prostate exams, colonoscopies and pap smears are just some of the other tests that can detect cancers early, in addition to blood tests and yearly physicals.

Dr. Henry-Tillman adds that even without a scheduled exam if you notice something’s wrong – speak up and make that appointment.

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