In the early days of COVID-19 when recommendations to remain at home were rampant, routine health screenings were relegated to the long list of “non-essential” activities. In retrospect, delaying screenings may have been counter-productive. As of March 2021, the diagnosis rate for breast and several other types of cancer dipped 19% below pre-pandemic rates. At first blush, it sounds like an improvement, but unfortunately that statistic is widely considered to be a reflection of less screening — not less cancer — and delays in detection are associated with more advanced disease, more aggressive and costly treatment, and worse outcomes, according to AuntMinnie.com.
A recent Prevent Cancer Foundation survey revealed that 31% of respondents who did not schedule a breast or cervical screening say they were worried about being exposed to the coronavirus. Fortunately, the new normal appears to value routine health screenings because in the same survey, 65% said they plan to book an appointment for a breast or cervical screening before the beginning of 2022. The benefit of “getting back on the books” can’t be over-emphasized, because finding breast cancer early makes it easier to treat or cure, according to the American Cancer Society. As Dr. Nicole Priest, chief wellness officer at Merit Medical explains it, “One of the most important choices women can make is to adhere to mammography screening guidelines. Mammography saves lives and today women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer have options.”
Women can opt for less invasive surgery and breast-conserving treatments, which focus on removing only the tumor and allowing women to keep their healthy breast tissue. These options exist as a result of technological advances in detection and new treatment approaches. For instance, the wire-free SCOUT® Radar Localization System uses safe, non-invasive, radar technology for precise guidance during the surgery. With SCOUT, a tiny, passive reflector about the size of a grain of rice is placed at the tumor site either at the time of biopsy, prior to neoadjuvant chemotherapy, or at any time prior to surgery. Then during the procedure, the surgeon uses the SCOUT system to activate the reflector, which enables the surgeon to precisely locate and remove the tumor. The precision provided by RADAR localization has been clinically proven to reduce re-excision rates, according to Merit Medical data.
When COVID-related restrictions stalled cancer screenings and surgeries, a patient backlog ensued. In response, some breast centers pivoted to a more advanced application of SCOUT by placing the passive reflector at the time of biopsy to minimize the number of visits to the hospitals. A prime example is Intermountain Healthcare, an integrated health system based in Salt Lake City, Utah, where Dr. Brett Parkinson, Imaging Director Breast Care Services, is embracing this technology in a forward-thinking way. By consolidating diagnostic exams, biopsy and radar localization of highly suspicious breast lesions into a single visit, Parkinson and his team have been able to reduce the number of required patient interactions by 50%, from four to two. Parkinson’s observations on how care has improved since his team started placing SCOUT reflectors at the time of biopsy — which in most cases is on the same day as the diagnostic mammogram — stress the benefits to patients. “Women who’ve had previous wire localizations comment on the ease of the procedure compared to traditional localization,” said Parkinson, “and they love that they don’t have to return to the breast center for biopsy, and then again for a localization procedure.”
Since its introduction, SCOUT has been used in the treatment of over 235,000 breast cancer patients, and in a multi-site survey 97% of women who opted for SCOUT-assisted surgery said they would recommend it to other women, according to a 2016 study. For women who require radiation therapy after surgery, Merit’s brachytherapy system, SAVI® Brachy, delivers radiation directly to the lumpectomy site where the radiation is needed most, helping to spare surrounding healthy tissue. Along with SCOUT, these technologies are helping to reduce the burden that cancer places on women and their loved ones.
For more information, visit https://www.merit.com/merit-oncology/. Dr. Parkinson is a paid consultant of Merit Medical.