ORANGE, Calif. — Cancer doctors are urging adults to stay on top of annual screenings. While clinics have been open for months, some patients have delayed life-saving screenings during the pandemic.
“There’s no doubt there’s concerns among cancer surgeons, all of us, that we may be missing cancers and people are going to have worse outcomes because of it," said Dr. Brian Norouzi, a urologist and robotic surgeon at St. Joseph's Hospital in Orange, California.
A recent report from The British Medical Journal found delaying treatment each month for certain cancers can raise the risk of death by around 10 percent. Researchers looked at bladder, breast, colon, rectum, lung, cervix, and head and neck cancers – that together represent 44 percent of all incident cancers globally.
“Often, when you don’t get screened for a short period of time, time gets away from you," said Dr. Norouzi.
While prostate cancer grows more slowly, he says early detection is still important.
"When we delay things for too long, we sometimes lose our opportunity to do either less invasive surgery, meaning we have to be a little more aggressive about the surgery we do in some cases, and, or we might miss our opportunity at a cure.”
Ron Cambra says his prostate cancer was discovered during a routine physical in 2020.
“I’m 59. I didn’t think I was old enough to get prostate cancer," said Cambra. "And when they said you need to go get a biopsy, I was like, oh boy, this is serious, right.”
Owner of Cambra Speed Shop, he fulfilled his lifelong dream of owning a custom car shop after retiring.
“I was really nervous about this whole thing, and I liked the steps that he [Dr. Norouzi] was taking. He said let’s do the MRI first, let's check and see where it is. One step at a time, it’s the way I build cars, one step at a time," said Cambra.
Despite being a volunteer with the Cruisin’ for a Cure fundraiser for prostate cancer for years, Cambra never thought he would be the one diagnosed with the disease.
"If I would’ve waited, who knows what could’ve happened. It’s about catching it early," said Cambra. "I tell everybody to this day, all my friends, go get checked.”
Dr. Norouzi and his team used novel robotic technology to treat Cambra's cancer. Minimally invasive, their new da Vinci robot removed the prostate gland with a single incision; Cambra was back at home one day after surgery.
“Whether it’s this robot or other robots, people are back to work in a very short time," said Dr. Norouzi.
He says it's another benefit for those fearful of hospitals during the pandemic.
"We have a heightened concern for the virus and putting into place as many precautions as we can to make things safe," said Dr. Norouzi. “Don’t be afraid, at least to work with your general doctor and find out if it’s one of those things that can wait or not."
Cambra is hopeful his experience will encourage others to keep up with cancer screenings and seek medical help if something doesn’t feel right.
“Life goes on. I’m OK. Everything I could do before I can still do today," said Cambra.
While physician and medical organization guidelines vary, the American Cancer Society offers this guide when talking to your doctor about certain cancer screenings.
They also have more specific information about cancer screenings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to St. Joseph’s Hospital as St. Joseph’s Medical Center. The hospital is located in Southern California.