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Doctors urge keeping up with preventative care despite pandemic

Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 7:30 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) -The pandemic has pushed preventative cancer screenings back across the board. Bryan Health’s Gastroenterology Department saw a nearly 80% decline in people coming to get screened for colon cancer right at the beginning of the pandemic.

While the screening numbers are trending back towards normal, doctors are worried there are people whose cancer was missed.

The latest data from the American Cancer Society shows about 5% of men, and 4% of women will develop colorectal cancer, a cancer that is largely preventable through regular screenings starting at the age of 45.

Al Chambers is the one out of 20. He’s worked for UPS for over 30 years, and right before the holidays in 2013, he felt ill and breathless.

“I had a coworker who said he could swoop by Seward and picking up 20 stops,” said Chambers. “I had to ask him to do 30, which I don’t do because I don’t ask for help.”

His wife suggested they go to the doctor. They ended up in the Bryan Health emergency room.

“The whole thing was very unnerving, but the roughest part was finding out I was going to miss a minimum of two weeks of work during the busiest time at UPS,” said Chambers.

Chambers was just six months past 50. He said he had planned on getting a colonoscopy.

“I was going to do it. I just didn’t know when,” said Chambers. “The sad part was is that we lost a good friend two years earlier, and I was dragging my feet about a procedure that saved my life.”

Doctors said putting off cancer screenings, even just for six months, can be deadly.

“With colon cancer, the best time to get screened is when you’re not having symptoms,” said Dr. Mark Wells, Bryan Health, Gastroenterology.

In an average year, Bryan Health sees between 700 to 800 people a month for colonoscopies. Last year, they said right at the onset of the pandemic, they were down to 150 to 200 people.

“We know colon cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women,” said Dr. Wells. “We see approximately 150,000 cases of colorectal cancer a year. We expect that number may rise because nationwide, there’s been a drop in the number of screenings happening.”

Al knows it could have been a much different story, and he wants you to know, don’t wait to get screened like he did. Because even months can make a world of difference.

“I’m really getting to stop and smell the roses and spend quality time with my family,” said Chambers. “A colonoscopy can save your life.”

Al said since his diagnosis, he’s worked on others to make sure they go in to get regular cancer screenings. To date, he said he’s had 40 people reach out to him to thank him for encouraging them to get tested.

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