Dr. Marc Siegel urges Americans to 'get back on track' with cancer care, screening and treatment

Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel told "America's Newsroom" that a top U.S. cancer doctor's warning that delays in screenings and treatments due to the coronavirus pandemic will lead to thousands of cancer deaths in the coming years is "really correct."

Siegel told host Sandra Smith that the number of mammograms had fallen by up to 70 to 90 percent during the first months of the pandemic, while CT scans, MRIs, and other cancer-related procedures have been delayed.

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"Now, I spoke to Dr. [Stephen] Hahn ... this morning, the commissioner of the [Food and Drug Administration], who said they’re trying now to double up on treatments -- treatments that have been delayed: chemo, and immunotherapy," he remarked. "They’re trying to accelerate it when they can safely to compensate for it.

"But, clinical trials for new cancer treatments have also been delayed. They’re still ongoing, but the trials themselves have been delayed," Siegel continued. "They’re trying to mail the drugs to patients. We’re using telemedicine more and more with cancer patients."

National Cancer Institute Director Norman Sharpless. (H. Darr Beiser/NCI via AP)

National Cancer Institute Director Norman Sharpless. (H. Darr Beiser/NCI via AP)

"The good news," added Siegel, an internist at NYU Langone Health, "is that as we start to reopen in New York, I can tell you from NYU Langone that we’re getting back on track with treatments, with MRIs, with surgeries for cancer. All of this is coming back now, but we have to overcome the fear of COVID."

In an editorial published Thursday in the journal Science, National Cancer Institute Director Norman Sharpless, warned that there could be "no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing delayed diagnosis and suboptimal care for people with cancer."

"Beyond clinical care, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented disruption throughout the cancer research community, shuttering many labs and slowing down cancer clinical trial operations ..." he noted. "The scientific community must ensure that this pause is only temporary."

Siegel emphasized that the coronavirus pandemic had not stopped cancer research, "it just slowed it in its tracks because patients were afraid and we weren't able to get them the medicine."

The good news, Siegel added, is "we are learning about COVID-19. We’re learning how to contain it. We’re learning how to sterilize areas. We’re testing everybody that we’re bringing into the hospital now before they go for any surgical procedure. We are learning how to isolate people better and we’re not having the surge that we had a month ago in most parts of the United States.

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"Even as you’re seeing cases going up, the hospitals are better in control. So, I have to urge everybody out there: you cannot delay your cancer care, diagnosis screening, or treatment any longer," Siegel urged. "Or Dr. Sharpless is right, We’re going to see way more deaths from cancer."

The doctor also warned that "we have to be careful that cancer patients don't get COVID, because 50 percent of them do get hospitalized from it.

"But we have to keep going with cancer treatments and for the research and for the diagnostics, and the screening cannot stop," he concluded. "Now is the time to get back on track."