Though the pandemic is not yet fully in the rear-view mirror, the availability of three different vaccines is making a big difference, especially for those at risk for malignant mesothelioma. The elderly men and women with a history of exposure to asbestos are among the first group to be eligible for immunizations, and once they have the shots they can feel safe in returning to their doctors’ offices. Physicians and health experts are concerned that postponed lung scans and examinations have delayed diagnosis and treatment, and researchers are trying to assess how many lives will have been lost as a result of these delays.
Delay in Mesothelioma Screening May Have Cost Lives
The population most at risk for COVID-19 is the very same group most vulnerable to malignant mesothelioma: People over the age of 65. Their risk for the rare form of cancer is linked to the ubiquitous use of asbestos during the 20th century, and their occupational or environmental exposure to the carcinogen. The disease’s long latency period means constant vigilance and regular screening is required — but many pushed that screening off out of fear of the COVID-19 virus. The same has been true across the country for other cancer tests, including colonoscopies, Pap smears and mammograms.
In assessing the impact of these delays, researchers at the University of Cincinnati have already found that when CT scans screening for lung cancer resumed in June there were nearly four times as many suspicious nodules identified as in previous years, and other studies have shown a significant drop in the number of cancer diagnoses made during 2020. This is being blamed on a dramatic decrease in the number of screenings being performed.
Mesothelioma Physicians are Concerned
Mesothelioma is always considered fatal and extremely challenging to treat, and the more advanced the cancer is, the harder it is to provide patients with extended survival or improved quality of life. The total impact of the pandemic on death rates and survival time in those eventually diagnosed may not be known for years, but experts fear that the delays in medical screenings that made sense initially may have been taken too far, and that excess deaths may occur. Speaking of cancer diagnoses in general, Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, wrote in the journal Science that the delays in screening “may turn one public health crisis into many others.”
If you are at risk for mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure and need information on screening, the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net can help. Contact us today at 1-800-692-8608.