Quick, do a calendar search for your next ob-gyn visit. If you’re like many women across the country, you may find zip. That’s because many of us haven’t yet rescheduled appointments we canceled because of COVID-19.
This has experts worried. “We told women they could postpone, not knowing how long this would last,” says Marisa Weiss, M.D., chief medical officer and founder of Breastcancer.org. In March 2020, cancer screenings plunged by as much as 94 percent; by June, screenings were still down from the previous year.
Though the time for delaying is over, many moms still aren’t prioritizing breast health. Some are anxious about going into a doctor’s office or think that because screening is elective, they can let it slide. The median age at diagnosis for breast cancer, after all, is 62, according to the nonprofit Susan G. Komen.
But while the likelihood of women under 40 being diagnosed with breast cancer in the next 10 years is low, it’s not zero, says Ginny Ehrlich, CEO of the breast and ovarian health group Bright Pink. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women under 40 and tends to be faster growing in younger women. It also often goes undetected for longer in women under 40, since they don’t generally get mammograms unless they have an increased risk. (If you have a family history of breast cancer, speak to your doctor about when to begin screenings.)
COVID-19 hasn’t just complicated preventive care. It has also upended treatment for many patients, as you’ll see from the stories shared by these women forced to put their journey back to health and normal life on hold .
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's October 2020 issue as “Breast Cancer in the Pandemic.” Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here