MILWAUKEE -- Many doctor's appointments have been delayed by COVID-19 -- and that includes routine cancer screenings.
Debbie Gould always feels nervous before her mammograms. In 2015, one detected abnormal cells.
"It was DCIS, which is stage 0 cancer, and I ended up having a lumpectomy," Gould said.
After six weeks of radiation, Gould was in the clear. Her mammograms since -- have been normal.
"Once they started looking routine, there was no issues found -- then they moved to once a year," Gould said.
But on May 15, Gould's routine mammogram was canceled. So was the follow-up appointment with her oncologist to discuss an expiring prescription.
"I was told it was not going to be rescheduled until possibly August," Gould said.
Area hospitals tell Contact 6 they had to postpone routine cancer screenings due to COVID-19 for people considered at low or average risk.
A report by the Epic Health Research Network in Verona reveals routine screenings for breast cancer in nationwide data dropped 94 percent in March. Cervical cancer screenings declined 94 percent -- and colon cancer screenings went down 86 percent.
Dr. Chris Mast
"By detecting the cancer earlier, you ideally will catch it in a state where it is easier to treat," said Dr. Chris Mast of Epic.
Mast said there are two reasons for the drop in preventative screenings. One, hospitals and clinics canceling appointments -- and two, patients canceling.
"Sometimes people are concerned about going out or going to the place to get the screening done because of the pandemic," Mast said.
"Cancer can spread really fast, as we all know, and time is of the essence," Gould said.
Gould's mammogram was postponed by Froedtert which tells Contact 6 it...
"...continues to proceed judiciously with all appointments as we balance patient care needs and the availability of care with respect to the ongoing PPE shortages...Procedures have only been delayed provided the delay does not put a patient at risk."
"Initially, there were some deferments of appointments because we wanted to reduce the number of people coming into the building," said MaryBeth Kingston from Aurora. "Anything that was urgent, emergent or would have long-term impact, we did not."
Dr. MaryBeth Kingston
Aurora and Ascension both tell Contact 6 they have begun rescheduling appointments for routine care.
"It is safe to come into the hospital. We do not want people to be afraid to come into care sites," Kingston said.
Gould wanted to go. She now has a mammogram scheduled with Aurora but said having to switch doctors was disappointing.
Froedtert will resume mammogram scheduling on May 27. Patients are being contacted. The hospital says it will continue with CDC guidance on social distancing and that safety of their patients and staff is always their top priority.
Dr. Mast said if you have an average risk of cancer, a delay of a month or two should not significantly increase your risk of having cancer detected. But do not put off making an appointment if you are due. Call your doctor's office to have a discussion.
"Froedtert & MCW health network continues to proceed judiciously with all appointments as we balance patient care needs and the availability of care with respect to the ongoing PPE shortages. Consistent with earlier decisions on patient care, we will continue to make decisions based on the safety and well-being of our patients, staff and community. Procedures have only been delayed provided the delay does not put a patient at risk.
"Beginning May 27, mammography scheduling will be available to F&MCW patients. Patients with deferred appointment are in the process of being contacted by the F&MCW Breast Imaging staff to reschedule their appointments.
"We continue to work to respect the CDC guidance on social distancing and continue to transition in-person clinical visits with video and telephonic options when possible. The safety and well-being of our patients, staff and community is always our top priority. We encourage patients to contact their Froedtert & MCW health care provider with questions."
Dr. Gregory Brusko, Chief Clinical Officer, Ascension Wisconsin, issued the following statement:
"Yes, Ascension Columbia St. Mary's Hospital Milwaukee has resumed preventative cancer screenings. Ascension Wisconsin is offering staggered appointment times to reduce the number of patients with overlapping wait times and help promote the physical distancing of patients in waiting rooms.
With the reintroduction of certain elective procedures and appointments, Ascension Wisconsin staff has begun contacting patients to reschedule procedures that were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, using clinical judgment to prioritize scheduling for patients with the most urgent and immediate needs. Services are also available for patients to take a proactive role in their health and schedule appointments and regular doctors’ visits online or over the phone.
Because every patient encounter is unique, individual care decisions must always be made between caregivers and the patient; no guidance should ever be used to substitute for that independent medical judgement."