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Lexington oncologist sees COVID-19's impact on cancer patients receiving proper treatment

Hospital hallway
Posted at 3:21 PM, Nov 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 17:17:12-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — An LEX 18 viewer recently reached out to tell us about a family in Scott County struggling to cover funeral costs to bury a loved one. The gentleman died of cancer, and the family feels it was premature. They believe he passed away unnecessarily due to an inability to receive the proper care when our COVID-19 numbers were peaking.

Dr. Shawn Peterson of Lexington’s Baptist Health says the theory is certainly plausible.

“During the spring of 2020, when COVID was at its peak, we had a cancer screening decline of about 85% in breast cancer patients,” Dr. Peterson said before noting that the screening numbers have recently returned to pre-COVID levels. But is it too late for many, like it was for the man in Georgetown?

“I think we’re already seeing some of that where people who could’ve been caught a year or two ago with screenings are coming in with higher stages,” Peterson added.

And when that happens, Dr. Peterson said the treatment has to become more aggressive, and the survival rate decreases.

Many healthcare facilities across the state and country were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, some were filled to capacity, and that made it difficult to conduct regular business. From the patients’ perspective, there was a lack of desire to schedule screenings out of fear of catching the virus or having to wait hours to be seen. Those issues, for now, are a thing of the past.

“Our staff is well-trained to minimize the risk of COVID infection by coming to our facilities to get screened,” Dr. Peterson said.

As of this writing, 761,426 Americans have a cause of death directly linked to COVID-19, per the CDC website. How many more have been, or will be lost, as an indirect result? One family in Georgetown has already learned it’s more than possible.