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Getting Back on Track With Health Screenings

Don't delay preventive care due to COVID-19 concerns

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clearer than ever that your health has never been more important. And one of the best ways to protect your health is to stay on track with preventive care, health screenings and vaccinations — which all give you the best chance of maintaining your health and getting care early if you do get sick.

Statewide restrictions and precautions caused many well visits, tests, procedures and immunizations to get cancelled or rescheduled this spring. Although many of these restrictions are now lifted, you may have concerns about getting back on track with your usual appointments.

“As a physician who has been in practice for 30 years, as a father, as a husband, as a neighbor, I can share your concern and anxiety regarding the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Ali Keshavarzian, MD, a gastroenterologist at Rush. “I fully understand your anxiety and reluctance to seek care. But I can reassure you that at Rush we have put in place multiple steps to ensure your safety.”

Rush has instituted a wide range of safety measures at all our locations — from universal masking (everyone is wearing a mask) and social distancing to enhanced COVID-19 screening and meticulous cleaning procedures. Learn more about what Rush is doing to safely provide excellent care.

“Health screenings save lives,” says Linda Dowling, RN, program manager for the lung cancer screening program at Rush. “With these safety measures in place, we’re making it easy and safe for you to get these important tests.”

Health Screenings for Adults

Breast Cancer Screening

While you may be off your usual mammogram schedule, getting screened now is one of the best things you can do for your health.

“It’s OK to be one, two or even three months off schedule due to these unprecedented circumstances,” says Lisa Stempel, MD, director of breast imaging at Rush. “But breast screening is the best way to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages, when it is most curable. And, to find those early breast cancers, you need to come in for your screening as close as possible to when you were originally scheduled. Screening mammograms need to be performed every year to save the most lives from breast cancer.”

While restrictions have loosened in recent weeks, staying safe when you come to any of Rush’s breast imaging centers is still a top priority. “Our breast imaging centers are taking extra safety precautions to ensure that you are safe and comfortable during your screening; all of our techs are wearing masks, we are socially distancing in our clinics and we have increased our already stringent cleaning and disinfecting procedures,” says Stempel.

Learn more about Rush’s wide range of breast cancer screening options, including 3D mammograms and automated breast ultrasound (ABUS) for women with dense breasts.

Who needs to be screened:

  • Women age 40 and above
  • Women who have a high risk of breast cancer

Colon Cancer Screening

Similarly, early detection is key when it comes to colon cancer. When colon cancer is caught early, there can be a better than 90% chance for a cure.

And colonoscopy can do more than just detect an early-stage cancer. It can also help prevent colon cancer down the road. During your colonoscopy, your doctor can actually remove polyps that could develop into colon cancer down the road.

“The downside of delaying care and delaying life-saving, preventive procedures, such as colonoscopy, is huge,” says Keshavarzian.

If you have a family history of colorectal cancer and polyps, it’s even more important to get back on your regular screening schedule.

“The tragedy of dying from colon cancer is that people don’t have to,” says Salina Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist at Rush. “We know how to find it, treat it and cure it. We just have to find it early.”

Who needs to be screened:

  • Men and woman age 50 and above
  • Men and women who have a family history of colon cancer and polyps may be recommended to start screening at an earlier age
  • Black men and women age 45 and above

It is important that your children do not get behind on their vaccinations, especially now that the COVID-19 restrictions have lifted a bit

Lung Cancer Screening

Although lung cancer screening is not as common as colonoscopy or mammogram, it is equally as important in terms of detecting early-stage cancers. This simple, low-dose CT scan of the lungs has been proven to reduce lung cancer deaths in people who have a high risk for developing lung cancer.

However, those who are eligible for lung cancer screening — people age 55 to 80 and those who have a history of smoking — also tend to have a higher risk of complications from COVID-19.

“When we put the lung cancer screening program on hold during the spring, we were thinking first and foremost of our patients’ safety,” says Dowling. “We knew it would be OK for our patients to delay their screening for just a couple of months. But we also know that this is an important test that can save lives, so we put a number of safety precautions in place when we reopened the program.”

Now that the screening program is back up and running, Dowling and her team are taking every possible measure to keep lung cancer screening patients safe, including strict cleaning and disinfecting procedures between each screening and doing the consultation part of the screening over the phone rather than in person, which limits the amount of time patients spend in the office. They are also offering virtual smoking cessation counseling through video visits.

“Our patients are feeling safe when they come here for their screening, and they are getting back on track with their screening schedule,” says Dowling.

Who needs to be screened:

Lung cancer screening is recommended for people who meet these criteria:

  • Are between the ages of 55 and 77 (for Medicare coverage) and 55 and 80 (for commercial insurance coverage)
  • Have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history (an average of one pack a day for 30 or more years)
  • Are in good health and have no signs of lung cancer (weight loss or coughing up blood)
  • Have not had a chest CT in the past year.

Talk to your primary care doctor to find out if lung cancer screening is right for you.

Health screenings for kids

Vaccinations

As the race for a COVID-19 vaccine plays out across the world, it’s an important reminder about the importance of staying up to date on your and your children’s vaccines and immunizations.

“It is important that your children do not get behind on their vaccinations, especially now that the COVID-19 restrictions have lifted a bit, and we’re all moving around more within our communities,” says pediatrician Carrie Drazba, MD. “These vaccinations protect your children from serious and sometimes life-threatening infections like measles, whooping cough and meningitis, so please don’t delay these important pediatric well-child visits.”

Vaccines play a critical role in preventing life-threatening illnesses for everyone, from newborns to seniors. “The diseases [childhood] vaccines prevent are most deadly in the very young," says pediatric infectious disease specialist Kenneth Boyer, MD. “That’s why they are recommended at the earliest ages.”

While getting a bit off schedule due to COVID-19 concerns is understandable, getting back to the recommended immunization schedule now is one of the most important ways you can protect your child’s health. This schedule is determined by decades of medical evidence showing there’s an optimal window of time when vaccines are most effective in preventing these diseases that children are particularly vulnerable to.

Learn more about the importance of childhood vaccines.

Who needs to be vaccinated:

  • Babies, children and teenagers for all recommended childhood vaccinations
  • Babies, children, teenagers and adults for the flu vaccine
  • Adults 65 years and above for pneumonia and shingles vaccines

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