Hawaiʻi, national cancer organizations warn cancer doesn't stop for COVID-19 and neither should you

UH Cancer Center, Hawaii Cancer Consortium part of nationwide effort to resume screening, treatment

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: Jan 28, 2021

National Comprehensive Cancer Network Contact: 
Rachel Darwin, (267) 622-6624

American Cancer Society Contact: 
Teri Mitchell Porter, (312) 909-9385

HONOLULU, HI, ATLANTA, GA and PLYMOUTH MEETING, PA, January 28, 2021 — The University of Hawaii Cancer Center and the Hawaii Cancer Consortium are  teaming up with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®), the American Cancer Society (ACS) and other leading cancer organizations across the country to endorse the resumption of cancer screening and treatment during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The coalition of 76 organizations has released an open letter reminding the public that cancer still poses a major threat to people’s health, but acting as soon as is safely possible can lead to much better outcomes in the future. The letter examines distressing trends showing a significant drop-off in recommended cancer screening and treatment compared to prior years. This concerning side-effect of the pandemic could lead to a staggering number of preventable cancer deaths over the next ten years and beyond. Oncology experts agree that people should not delay any necessary prevention or care.

Here in Hawaii, experts have seen a reduction in mammographic screening during the pandemic, though mammography rates have started to recover. However, a significant reduction in colonoscopic screening for colorectal cancer persists. “The reduction in cancer screening is particularly important for our Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations as this group is already affected by worse outcomes for colon, breast and other cancers,” said Randall F. Holcombe, MD, MBA, Director of the University of Hawaii Cancer Center.

“When cancer is caught earlier, it is typically easier to treat because there are more options available,” said Robert W. Carlson, MD, CEO, NCCN. “When the pandemic first hit the United States, a short delay in care was an appropriate choice for many cancer types. However, the balance of risk has shifted significantly. We now have two impressive vaccines that are being distributed around the world. We also know much more about how to treat and prevent COVID-19. Cancer centers are taking multiple measures to protect patients and staff from COVID-19 and transmission within cancer centers is quite unusual. Meanwhile, far too many cancers are being left to grow unchecked. Postponing cancer care will add tragedy on top of tragedy.”

“It is of the utmost importance that critical cancer screenings resume as soon as safely possible,” said William G. Cance, MD, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the American Cancer Society. “Over the past decade we have seen overall cancer mortality rates drop dramatically. This decline is in large part due to screening’s ability to catch cancers before they spread—when the chances of good outcomes are most likely. We have come too far in our fight against cancer to allow long breaks in vital screening to slow down our progress in saving lives.” 

Hospitals and medical systems across the country have already begun vaccinating health care providers among other measures to ensure a safe environment for people receiving cancer screening and treatment. The confirmed use of evidence-based precautions against COVID-19 should provide reassurance against fears of infection during necessary medical care.

Researchers around the world have made tremendous strides in controlling cancer in recent years, with a reduction in overall cancer incidence and mortality. Part of these gains have been due to cancer screening and detecting cancers earlier, when they are easier to treat. The UH Cancer Center, the Hawaii Cancer Consortium members and leading oncology experts across the country are now advising everyone, in coordination and consultation with their primary care or other health care provider, to resume cancer screening activities and to contact their doctor right away about any new symptoms or concerns.

Visit NCCN.org/resume-screening to read the entire letter. For general guidance and information about cancer, visit UHCancerCenter.org or NCCN.org or Cancer.org.

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About the University of Hawaii Cancer Center
The University of Hawaii Cancer Center through its various activities, including scientific research and clinical trials, adds more than $54 million to the Oahu economy. It is one of only 71 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute. A component of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the UH Cancer Center is dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, patient care and community outreach with an emphasis on the unique ethnic, cultural, and environmental characteristics of Hawaii and the Pacific. This year, the Cancer Center reflects on 50 years of progress. Learn more at https://www.uhcancercenter.org/50years. Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/UHCancerCenter. Follow us on Twitter @UHCancerCenter.

About the Hawaii Cancer Consortium
The Hawaii Cancer Consortium represents the unified basic, translational, and clinical cancer research effort benefiting all citizens of Hawaii and the Pacific Rim. The consortium is a partnership between the UH Cancer Center and Adventist Health Castle, Hawaii Medical Service Association, Hawaii Pacific Health, Kuakini Medical Center, The Queen's Health Systems, and The John A. Burns School of Medicine. The vision of the Hawaii Cancer Consortium is to substantially reduce the burden of cancer for the people of Hawaii and elsewhere through the support of clinical and translational cancer research.

About the National Comprehensive Cancer Network
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) is a not-for-profit alliance of leading cancer centers devoted to patient care, research, and education. NCCN is dedicated to improving and facilitating quality, effective, efficient, and accessible cancer care so patients can live better lives. Visit NCCN.org for more information on the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) and other initiatives. Follow NCCN on Facebook @NCCNorg, Instagram @NCCNorg and Twitter @NCCN.

About the American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society is a global grassroots force of 1.5 million volunteers dedicated to saving lives, celebrating lives, and leading the fight for a world without cancer. From breakthrough research, to free lodging near treatment, a 24/7/365 live helpline, free rides to treatment, and convening powerful activists to create awareness and impact, the Society is the only organization attacking cancer from every angle. For more information go to www.cancer.org.