PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Fear of getting coronavirus has prevented many people from going to regular doctor’s appointments.

But when it comes to screenings or treatment for cancer, it can be a matter of life and death.

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Dr. Stanley Marks, chairman of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, says, “We know for sure that with certain cancers, early detection makes a huge impact on a patient’s prognosis or outcome. And certainly with breast cancer, cervical cancer, colon cancer, skin cancer, early detection can make the difference between a cure and not a cure.”

Dr. Marks says research showed that nationally, there was a 90 percent reduction in cancer screenings in March and April.

“We are concerned about cancer deaths increasing, not just because of the absence of screening but even coming for routine appointment follow-up treatments,” says Dr. Marks, “And there have been cases around the country that clearly resulted in patients’ death because they were afraid to come in because of COVID.”

A study by Komodo Health found new cancer diagnoses went down 32 percent and colonoscopies and biopsies dropped 90 percent in those two months.

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Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, but the survival rate is high if caught early with screening.

“We want to make sure that they get these things back on their calendar because to wait another year would not be a good idea,” Dr. Marks says.

At UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, they’re screening everyone who comes in with a questionnaire and a temperature check and requiring everyone to wear a mask.

They also now allow patients to bring a support person.

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Dr. Marks says Pittsburgh has been lucky to have fewer coronavirus cases than in other parts of the country, and with safety measures in place, you don’t need to be afraid of coronavirus when you come to Hillman, a hospital or doctor’s office.

Kristine Sorensen