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“Don’t wait,” Mayo doctor warns about delaying breast cancer screenings

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- At the height of the pandemic, mammograms were the last thing on most women's minds. According to the Health Care Cost Institute, regular tests fell nearly 80% from last year.

At Mayo Clinic, these numbers have since rebounded, but the impact remains.

Dr. Saranya Chumsri, oncologist at Mayo Clinic, says she treated patients who noticed abnormal lumps in their breasts several months ago but only recently came in for a screening.

"I can think of a couple of patients in the past few months that actually had a lump in their breast since the beginning of the pandemic back in February and March," Chumsri said. "They decided they did not want to come in because of COVID-19. And by the time we saw them, they already had stage three breast cancer."

Early detection is crucial. When breast cancer is identified sooner, patients have higher survival rates and are also less likely to require more aggressive treatments like chemotherapy.

"If you look at patients with stage one breast cancer, the cure rate is over 90%," Chumsri said. "When you wait and the cancer starts to progress, when it gets to stage two, then the survival rate goes down to 70 or 80%."

Dr. Chumsri says hospitals are taking extensive COVID-19 safety measures, meaning there’s no reason to delay your annual screening.

"The risk of contracting COVID-19 from coming in for a mammogram is quite low," she said.

So, who should get mammograms? And how often? Dr. Katie Hunt of Mayo Clinic radiology recommends women get yearly mammograms starting at age 40.

"That's been the regimen that we have the strongest data for, and that is shown to have the highest reduction in mortality for women," she said.

Some women may also avoid getting mammograms because the process is uncomfortable. However, it's essential in order to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

"When it's stage four and it spread elsewhere, it becomes incurable," Chumsri said. "In that situation, it is life and death."

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Savannah Kelley

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