When the New Year’s bell rings, the typical mantra of healthcare professionals usually revolves around promises to exercise more and lose weight. As important as it is, there may be one New Year’s resolution that has an even bigger impact on your health. How about investing in your health by simply visiting your primary care physician? Sounds simple, but it could actually be the difference between life and death for you.
Across the U.S., primary care visits are down 10.3% compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to Statnews. This means that 1 in 10 Americans who usually see their primary care physician for a general check-up has not done so since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. It also means routine screening of these people for important diagnoses like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer has been delayed. This will ultimately prevent effective treatment of these otherwise preventable diseases.
Only 14 percent of cancers that occur in the United States are detected by screening, according to new research. This means that 6 out of 7 cancers are detected when symptoms are already present. Screening tests are available for five different cancers – lung, breast, colorectal, cervical and prostate. If screening tests were used less by the general public, fewer cancers would be found in their potentially treatable early stages. Many times, cancer is detected too late, symptoms have already set in, and limited treatments are available to save a person’s life.
For example, most women should be screened for breast cancer by age 40, according to the American College of Radiology. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, 43,250 women will die of breast cancer in 2022. Screening for breast cancer with a mammogram, which is a non-invasive x-ray that checks the breast for any abnormalities, especially cancer. According to the American College of Radiology, mammograms can detect cancer earlier than you can feel it with your hands. In addition, annual mammograms have reduced breast cancer deaths in the United States by nearly 40 percent since the 1990s.
The success of early cancer screening is at risk given that fewer Americans are seeing their primary care physicians and fewer are being screened for various types of cancer. Screening rates for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers have all declined since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a study by JAMA Network. Furthermore, only 6% of those eligible for lung cancer screening actually participated in the low-dose CT chest exam, the Lung Screening Study. That means 94 percent of Americans at risk of developing lung cancer, the deadliest cancer in the United States, are not routinely screened.
As you struggle to return to some degree of normalcy after Covid-19, you must not forget to take care of yourself and your health. Visiting your family doctor should be at the top of your New Year’s resolutions, especially if you haven’t been in the past few years. A PCP will make sure you are up to date on medications, vaccinations and screening tests. Screening tests save lives, but getting them is still up to you.