Colorectal cancer deaths predicted to triple by 2030 due to drop in colonoscopy screenings amid COVID pandemic

Because of the pandemic, people have put off colonoscopy screenings. Researchers predict the colorectal cancer death rate will triple by 2030. Now one local hospital is stepping up its efforts to reach those in the hardest hit communities.

During lockdown, 62-year-old Rosemary Hernandez of Perris stayed away from COVID-19 and stayed away from colon cancer screening. Her daughter, Nadine Quiroz, said she was scared of the outcome and scared of the procedure.

"This time. We told her she had to do it. We made her do it," Quiroz said.

After her mom's colonoscopy, Quiroz said doctors at Riverside University Health System gave them the news.

"They called us within about three days and told us that one of the polyps had cancer," she said.

"If she hadn't gotten through our system when she did, if she had waited two months or three months, she didn't even have symptoms, she would have advanced cancer," said Dr. Steve Serrao, the chief of Gastroenterology at RUHS.

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Serrao said shortly after the pandemic, "we noticed an exponential drop of about 90% of screening colonoscopies."

The hardest hit patients are those in communities of color.

"This population has had a harder time accessing health care," he said. "So we have come to realize that we have to make some adjustments."

RUHS launched an ambitious program designed to identify patients, help them cut through insurance barriers and answer their questions.

"We have developed a zoom class which is a virtual class on Zoom to teach them about colonoscopy. How to prepare for the procedure, what to expect on the day and what to expect after the procedure," Serrao said.

"They're so understanding. You talk to them and they explain everything," Quiroz said.

Since doctors removed Hernandez' polyps, her cancer scare is over. Her daughter believes the tough love conversation she had with her mother saved her life.

"I think a lot of it is also encouragement and just involvement with each other," Quiroz said. "And the sooner it's caught, the better."

Quiroz learned from her mom and plans to get her own screening.

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