Covid: The Looming Breast Cancer Crisis

It’s coming. I can feel it in the hallways at work. I can see it in the numbers. These numbers haven’t hit the mainstream news, I guess because they lack the splash of the ticker tape stats declaring today’s “worldwide-winner” of COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 deaths. But believe me, SARS-CoV-2 will soon indirectly cause a spike in non-virus-related breast cancer illness and death.

You see, breast cancer screening and detection rates are waaay down, but that doesn’t mean the cancers don’t exist. No, they continue their silent modus operandi of “divide and multiply” just the same as prior to the pandemic (actually, 0.3 percent higher than last year[1]). Cancer doesn’t quarantine itself or shelter in place, and when it comes to your breast health, neither should you.

Alarmingly, at the same time that breast cancer screening has taken a dramatic nosedive, many a woman’s response to COVID-19 has been to escalate her risk factors for the disease: more alcohol; increased consumption of snacks, processed and comfort foods; weight gain; less exercise combined with sedentary days; elevated stress levels.

Below, I detail the solutions you must know about and what you can do today about a possibly undetected cancer that might really flourish in an amped up cellular environment stoked by the above risk factors. Unless we alter course quickly, the next several years will bring a spike in more advanced-stage cancers due to the delay in diagnosis coupled with women unintentionally embracing the very lifestyle choices that have been scientifically shown to elevate breast cancer risk.

A Quick Look at the Numbers

COVID-19 has impacted breast cancer screening by declining the following types of care:[2]

Average Weekly Decline

  • Breast Imaging: 61.7%
  • Breast Genetics Consults: 26.4%
  • Breast Surgery: 20.5%
  • Breast Cancer Diagnoses[3]: 51.8%

The halting of “elective” breast cancer screening due to the emergence of COVID‐19 has negatively affected screening, diagnosing, and treatment of breast cancer, as well as increased risk for high-risk patients due to lower genetic counseling and prophylactic surgery. If you are due for breast screening (mammogram, ultrasound, breast MRI, or clinical breast exam), the same simple rules we already know apply so that you can get through your screening appointment safely:

  • Wear a mask at all times
  • BYOP! (Bring Your Own Pen) for signing forms
  • Consider wearing disposable gloves
  • Use hand sanitizer after you sign in
  • Sit or stand 6 feet apart from others in the waiting room
  • Use hand sanitizer as you leave the facility
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds as soon as you can
  • That’s it, so schedule your appointment

Other Risk Factors Are Rising

Let’s break down how the pandemic has caused the 5 most important controllable breast cancer risk factors to skyrocket, and before they rise further, let’s understand what you can do to protect your breasts against each of them.

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