During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people put off taking care of themselves. There are understandable reasons why, including being overwhelmed with work responsibilities, worrying about finances, juggling childcare and feeling afraid to seek non-emergency medical care during a pandemic.
As a result, screenings for several types of cancers dropped since the pandemic began in March 2020, according to the Epic Health Research Network. And a lot of people haven’t communicated with or seen their physician for care they need.
Beyond delaying care, many people got out of their healthy routines during the pandemic. In some cases, people had difficulty finding time to exercise, or didn’t find a substitute for a closed gym. Some people, working from home, found themselves raiding the pantry or fridge, even if they weren’t hungry.
Now is the time to get your health back on track!
Whether that means taking 30 minutes to exercise, scheduling a mammogram or reaching out to your doctor about whether you should have a colorectal cancer screening test, take time to take care of your health. Delaying care can lead to serious health problems down the road; we know patients are more likely to fare better and survive many illnesses if they are caught early.
Schedule Your Screenings
- Are you 45 or older? It may be time for colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) screening. New guidelines recently lowered the recommended age to begin screening for colorectal cancer from age 50 to age 45. This applies to men and women. Many patients can be screened for colorectal cancer by using the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which can be sent to Kaiser Permanente members in the mail. Patients can perform this test in the comfort and privacy of their home and simply drop the completed test in the mail. It’s a good option for patients at average risk of colorectal cancer. Since colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths, keeping up with screening is important. Kaiser Permanente patients with colorectal cancer have lower mortality rates than the national benchmarks in large part because of our commitment to screening and early detection.
- Do you have a history of smoking? Now may be the time for lung cancer screening. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States. Guidelines recently changed: We are now screening members as young as age 50 who have a 20 pack-year history. (Pack years are calculated by multiplying the number of cigarette packs smoked per day by the number of years the person smoked, so if you smoked two packs a day for 30 years, you have a 60 pack-year history.) The lung cancer screening test is short, painless and uses low-dose radiation.
- Are you a woman age 65 or older? It’s time for a bone density test. A baseline scan should be conducted at age 65, or earlier if you have additional risk factors such as tobacco use, early menopause or regular use of certain medications, such as glucocorticoids. A bone density test will enable your physician to assess the strength of your bones.
We encourage women to keep up to date on their breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings:
- Are you a woman and over the age of 40? Talk with your physician about breast cancer screening. We offer mammograms for women at low risk of developing breast cancer starting at age 40, and then every 1-2 years thereafter. For women at high risk for breast cancer, we will start screening earlier. Women should talk to their physician about a schedule that makes the most sense for them based on their personal risk factors. Our patients have lower breast cancer mortality rates compared to national benchmarks; part of the reason our patients have better outcomes is because of our commitment to ensuring women get mammograms when appropriate.
- Are you a woman 21 years old or older? Cervical cancer screenings (Pap smears) are recommended starting at age 21, and then every three to five years depending on age and prior Pap results.
Transgender men and gender expansive patients should talk to their physician to see if cervical cancer screening, breast cancer screening, or other cancer screening is appropriate.
Although the HPV vaccine has decreased the incidence of cervical cancer and pre-cancer, this screening test remains important. And if you’re wondering about the HPV vaccine, it is recommended for everyone age 9 through age 26, and, in some cases, for people up to age 45. People between ages 27-45 should discuss the vaccine with their physician to see if they would benefit from the vaccine. Those who are most likely to benefit are those who are not in monogamous (one sexual partner) relationships and those with recently diagnosed sexually transmitted infections.
Schedule Your Immunizations
Keeping up with all immunizations is an important way to protect against severe illness. Kaiser Permanente members can sign in on kp.org to see if they are due for any immunizations.
- Check your medical record or check in with your doctor to find out whether now is the time for a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster or an HPV immunization.
- If you are 50 or older, you should get the shingles vaccine series. The vaccine against pneumonia is recommended for those ages 65 and older.
- People under age 65 with conditions that weaken the immune system or with risk factors such as a history of smoking or asthma should talk to their physician about when to get vaccinated against pneumonia.
Though the 2020-21 flu season was extremely light with very few cases, we are hearing that the upcoming flu season may be intense. We urge everyone to get a flu shot when it is available, usually in September.
And of course, everyone ages 12 and older should be vaccinated against COVID-19! Please schedule today if you haven’t been vaccinated.
Take Stock of Your Mental Health
The pandemic has caused many people to have mental health challenges. If you are struggling, reach out for help immediately. Kaiser Permanente members can download the Calm and myStrength apps at no cost.
During the pandemic, many people gained weight. Now is the time to get back on track; being overweight can lead to a variety of health problems, including joint pain, heart disease, some cancers and Type 2 diabetes. Kaiser Permanente patients have access to health coaches and wellness classes to help.
Try for a diet high in fiber and complex carbohydrates and lower in fat and sugar. Focus on the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, lean chicken and fish, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and olive oil.
If you found that your alcohol consumption has gone up during the pandemic, now is a good time to cut back. Reach out to your physician if you need help.
Strive to get 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. That means you should be able to say only a few words when working out before feeling short of breath. You don’t need to join a gym. Walking, jogging, swimming and home workout routines can help you stay fit.
Many medical conditions are preventable or manageable if caught early. Take the time to invest in your health so that you can get back to enjoying spending time with your friends and family and doing the things you love.