Doctors fear a gap in screenings during COVID may have dangerous consequences

Mary Ann Miller enters the Breast Center at Holy Name Medical Center for her yearly mammogram and ultrasound. The mother of three has her temperature checked, her hands sanitized, and she’s then seated in a waiting room socially distant from other patients.

Miller was scheduled to come in April but her appointment was cancelled because of COVID-19, like other routine screenings across the state. She rebooked as soon as she could.

“I know that it’s very important. I have family that died from breast cancer so that’s why I take this seriously,” she said.

“We had to make huge adjustments as far as condensing appointments, spacing out appointments, so pretty much readjusting entire daily templates to be able to maintain and be within the confinements or restrictions of New Jersey state,” said Cheri Marchant-Armstrong, the manager of women’s imaging at the the Breast Center.

Marchant-Armstrong says so many women put check ups on hold. But now the challenge is getting patients to feel comfortable to come in for health maintenance.

“To continue to delay, that’s defeating the purpose of what the intent is for screening mammograms,” she said. “We can have a true invasive cancer that doesn’t take anytime to actually take over the breast.”

Primary care physician Dr. Rodger Green is concerned the gap in screenings may pose dangerous consequences.

“Thinking back from March until now — July — patients that weren’t screened, we could have missed lumps that were not benign. We could have missed polyps. We could have missed cervical cancer screening, pap smears were not being done, so we miss abnormalities. So now, going forward, it will most likely be playing catch up for this time,” Green said.

At this point, Green says thankfully the majority of his patients have started to trickle back in.

“They want to know the status of their health. They especially want to be screened for diabetes. They want to be screened for their lipid, so I find there is an uptick where patients are requesting to be seen and to be screened,” he said.

Dr. Peter Carrazzone, a family physician at Vanguard Medical Group, is seeing a similar trend.

“A month ago 70% of our visits were video visits, it shifted quite a bit back now. I’d say almost 70% are in office now, again. There’s still more video than there was pre-COVID, but we’re starting to get patients back in,” Carrazzone said.

All the doctors emphasized the time is now to get preventative measures done in case there is a second wave. That includes everything from mammograms, to colonoscopies, to pediatric patients in need of routine physicals and vaccinations before school starts.

“The drawback to delaying any screening is the increase in morbidity and mortality,” Green said.

That’s why Mary Ann Miller is here.

“I have three young children. I want to see them be successful in life and be with them for a very long time,” she said.