DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a renewed effort to fight cancer with the goal of reducing the death rate by half. He’s also focusing on early detection, urging people to get routine screenings they may have put off due to COVID-19.
Duke’s hospitals see more than 10,000 newly-diagnosed patients every year. Doctors said the best chance to beat cancer is to catch it early.
Rebecca Cook will never forget the day doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer, two years ago this month.
“When you hear those words, it doesn’t matter the stage, your age, your world turns upside down,” she said.
That wasn’t her only diagnosis. Doctors also found out that she has a genetic condition that makes her more susceptible to cancer — a condition she quickly learned two of her four children share.
“We’re missing one of the genes that helps to fight off cancer,” Cook explained.
While she went through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery at Duke, her son and daughter began frequent screenings to search for any sign of cancer. It’s more extensive testing than most will ever need, but for the Cooks, it illustrates the importance of early detection.
“Go get your screenings,” Cook said. “Don’t put them off.”
A lot of people have put them off, though. According to the White House, the pandemic led to 9.5 million missed cancer screenings.
“When the pandemic first started, there was a huge drop off in screenings. That’s mammograms, PSA tests, colonoscopies,” said Dr. Michael Kastan, the executive director of the Duke Cancer Institute.
After that drop in routine screenings, Kastan said Duke is now back to pre-pandemic levels.
“The good news is we’ve adapted to the pandemic and we figured out ways to be able to get patients back into the medical system while keeping them protected,” he said.
He added that it’s important not to delay routine screenings because that can impact treatment options.
“The earlier the stage you’re diagnosed, the easier the treatment,” he said.
Cook said screening for cancer has the potential to save her life and her children’s lives. While everyone may not need the same kind of tests they get, she hopes everyone will make routine screenings part of a regular health care regimen.
“I hope and pray that one day there is a cure,” she said. “But in the meantime, the best thing we have is early detection.”