Sentara Cancer Networks warns colon cancer screenings plummet during pandemic
As we surpass one year of COVID-19, an unfortunate trend is becoming clear: patients are putting off necessary screenings which can lead to more late-stage cancer diagnoses when they do return to the doctor.
Since the onset of the pandemic, regular screenings for colon cancer have dropped by more than 70 percent according to data from the Epic Health Research Network, the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, Komodo Health and the COVID and Cancer Research Network. As we enter Colon Cancer Awareness Month, the Sentara Cancer Network is working hard to increase access to screenings through its many partnerships throughout the community.
Amber Stinson, a 45-year-old local nurse practitioner, understands how life-saving a routine visit to the doctor can be because that’s how she found out she was living with Stage 4 colon cancer.
“Because I work in healthcare, I understand a lot of the symptoms of colon cancer, but unfortunately I did not have any of them prior to my diagnosis,” Amber said. “I had some fullness longer than usual after eating a few weeks prior to my diagnosis which I mentioned to my Gynecologist. She didn’t find anything unusual at my annual exam but recommended a colonoscopy because I was 45 years old and the American Cancer Society now recommends adults at average risk start their screenings at age 45.”
Amber’s colonoscopy in January 2020 revealed tumors on her colon and liver. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer that has metastasized to her liver.
“To say I was shocked was an understatement,” Amber said. “I remember thinking how can I be stage 4 at age 45, with no real symptoms, no anemia, weight loss, or pain. Imagine if I had waited until 50 or 55 to have my screening?”
Amber began treatment with Sentara Surgery Specialists. After 12 rounds of chemotherapy, Amber had her colon tumor and two liver tumors removed through surgery. Due to complications, an additional liver surgery to remove more tumors was put on hold. Unfortunately, in December, Amber found out her remaining tumors had grown and she is currently back in chemo with hopes to get the liver surgery back on the schedule soon.
“This is one of the reasons I wanted to share my story,” Amber said, “Without screenings, this disease can be considered a silent cancer. I had no personal gastrointestinal history or family history of colon cancer.”
“Colorectal cancer in the younger population, specifically under the age of 50, is actually increasing,” said Dr. John Sayles, Sentara Colorectal Surgeon. “Even people in their 30s now, there is a rise in colorectal cancer. Exactly why that’s happening, we’re not sure. That’s why it’s so important to increase awareness in routine screenings and preventative health measures.”
As Amber continues her treatment, while simultaneously navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic, she is urging her fellow community members to get regular cancer screenings.
“You are in the fight for your life and you have to be your own best advocate!” Amber said. “While a stage 4 diagnosis or any stage diagnosis scary, there is hope. The earlier you catch it the better the treatment options and prognosis. I also feel this experience has made me a better nurse practitioner. I feel I provide more compassionate care and that it has enhanced my interactions with my patients.”
For Amber and so many others, the Sentara Cancer Network is focused on finding ways to increase early detection throughout our communities. To learn more about resources and partnerships and how we support your individual community, please visit Colorectal Cancer | Sentara Healthcare or contact us at 1-800-SENTARA.
By: Kelly Kennedy