Cancer screening rates dropped almost 85% during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to later-stage diagnoses, complicated treatments and greater risk of death. Now, New Jersey oncologists are urging residents not to further delay such screenings.

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They hope to do this with a new campaign called "Time to Screen," according to Dr. May Abdo-Matkiwsky, a hematologist and oncologist at Regional Cancer Care Associates in Sparta.

Led by two national nonprofit organizations with local ties--The Community Oncology Alliance (COA) and CancerCare, the "Time to Screen" initiative provides assistance and educational resources to help adults screen for six common cancers: breast, colorectal, cervical, prostate, lung and skin.

Abdo-Matkiwsky said millions of people delayed medical care during the pandemic. Many are still too scared to have face-to-face doctor appointments. But because there are others trying to schedule a screening, that schedule has been pushed way back. So, if someone did not schedule their annual mammogram back in April, they can't get an appointment until October, November or December because so many others are trying to get back on a schedule.

But pandemic or no pandemic, early detection is key to saving lives. "So if you find something that's in an early stage, be it the breast or any other part of the body, then we are typically talking about a cure which is quite different than a diagnosis in a higher stage," Abdo-Matkiwsky said.

The "Time to Screen" campaign lets consumers access information on the importance of cancer screenings and find local cancer screening locations through a website and a toll-free hotline. People can visit or call toll-free 1-855-53-SCREEN (1-855-53-2733). Adults, especially those over 40 can even search for free or low-cost cancer screening options.

Finding diseases in its early stage helps cure more people of potential malignancies, she said. It's not that difficult. Patients just need to understand part of the responsibility of staying well into old-age, is by taking an initiative to get cancer-screened.

Cancer was the leading cause of death in New Jersey and in the United States in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"I think the take-home message about this campaign for screening is that it's easy. I think a lot of people are also nervous about making phone calls or going online because they think it's going to be cumbersome or difficult to navigate and none of this is hard," Abdo-Matkiwski said. It's a simple process and nobody should be nervous about it in terms of trying to move forward.

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