It's estimated that over the past two years, millions of cancer screenings that should have happened never actually occurred because of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, medical experts and groups are urging residents — who are considered to be at risk due to age and/or history — to get back on track with the checkups that could end up saving their lives.

"We need to do what we were doing before so we can have a maximum impact and decrease the amount of suffering that occurs with a cancer diagnosis," said Arnold Baskies, chair of the American Cancer Society chapter that serves South Jersey, and past chair of the board of directors for the national organization.

"Just like going to the dentist or changing the oil in your automobile, cancer screening needs to be a regular part of our lives," Baskies said.

In a January 2022 survey conducted for Prevent Cancer Foundation, 30% of individuals who had a cancer screening planned in the next three months said they were unaware of the screenings they need. In the same group, 45% admitted they're not planning on going to future screenings.

The foundation's findings suggest that gains realized in May 2021, compared to December 2020, have been erased for certain age groups and demographics, perhaps as a result of the omicron variant that emerged at the end of last year.

According to the survey, nearly 40% of adults aged 55 and older missed a screening appointment that was scheduled during the pandemic. Minorities, meanwhile, are most likely to be missing their appointments, the survey finds. Thirty-five percent of Asians, 32% of Native Americans, and 30% of Blacks were unaware of cancer screenings recommended to them, compared to 28% of white individuals.

"This setback seen in our latest wave of survey results is disheartening; however, these results help to inform opportunities for communication that can be used by individuals and organizations dedicated to improving health," said Judy Hoyos, president and COO of the foundation. "We hope everyone will get their appointments 'back on the books' and will encourage others to do the same."

According to Baskies, ACS estimates that more than 9 million cancer screenings did not occur due to reasons related to the COVID-19 crisis.

"That's a number we need to make up very quickly," Baskies said.

The pandemic, he added, impacted more than 200,000 research projects related to cancer around the world.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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