A local physician is speaking out about cancer screenings in Northeast Georgia following a drastic decrease in routine screenings last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Andrew Johnson, MD, in Oncology and Hematology at Longstreet Clinic, said while screening numbers got really bad last spring, they quickly recovered.
"We were catching back up by June, and certainly now we're back to full screening, able to accommodate everybody that needs it," Dr. Johnson said.
While screening numbers have returned to normal, Dr. Johnson says there has not been a backlog for screenings either.
"When I've asked patients if they've had trouble getting a mammogram or colonoscopy scheduled, they have not," Dr. Johnson said. "It may be different for communities that don't have as many medical resources as ours does."
However, Dr. Johnson said there is some concern about a potential "ripple effect" in cancer diagnoses due to the drop in cancer screenings last year.
"Down the road, patients that may have had symptoms and would have presented but didn't because of fear of the pandemic, there [may] be a significant increase in the number of advanced cases," Dr. Johnson said.
Dr. Johnson said he has not personally seen an increase in advanced-stage cases of cancer.
Either way, Dr. Johnson said he highly encourages getting routinely screened for cancer, as it can help detect early-stage cancer, which is typically highly treatable.
As far as those currently fighting a form of cancer, Dr. Johnson said there are many unknowns related to forms of cancer treatment and how they interact with the COVID-19 vaccine.
"There are some drugs that patients are on, where we just really don't know what the interaction of the vaccine and the drug is going to be," Dr. Johnson said.
He said Longstreet Clinic and Northeast Georgia Medical Center are currently working on an internal study on how immunotherapy interacts with the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Johnson said that while this internal research and studies aim to give more answers, he hopes to one day tell cancer patients with more confidence that the vaccine is safe for them. In the meantime, he does recommend that his patients receive the vaccine.