Created: November 28, 2020 10:15 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —The number of people dying from certain cancers will likely increase because of delayed screenings during the coronavirus pandemic, according to officials with UNM’s cancer center.
“So it’s an urgent health crisis,” said Dr. Cheryl Willman, director and CEO of the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“The impact of COVID-19 on cancer diagnosis and treatment and the treatment of other chronic illnesses is going to be devastating,” she added.
Willman is also on the board of scientific advisors at the National Cancer Institute and said the institute is predicting an additional 10,000 to 15,000 deaths per year until 2028 for patients with certain types of cancers.
In New Mexico, the state’s tumor registry is reporting a 55 percent drop in cancer patients.
“Now, there’s no way that our state has reduced cancer by 50 percent in three months,” Willman said. “What that data tells us, patients are not coming forward for screening or detection of their cancer."
The additional deaths are expected to impact patients with breast, colorectal and lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Willman said New Mexico has an unusual pattern when it comes to types of cancer and urges anyone that doesn’t feel good to seek medical attention.
According to Willman, earlier detection is the key to survival with most cancers.
“And we all know that cancer diagnosis in an early phase is really critical for your best outcome so we’re really alarmed by this data.”
Working with Dr. Fauci
Before beginning her career at UNM, Dr. Willman trained under Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and face of the White House’s coronavirus task force.
“And I was accepted in my third year of medical school in a fellowship in clinical immunology in the National Institutes of Health and one of my two mentors was Dr. Tony Fauci,” she said.
Willman told KOB that she remembers Fauci recognizing certain diseases before they were well known.
“And I remember him very clearly because he was a phenomenal physician, he’s a phenomenal person, and he would always show up every morning with a perfectly white starched coat and tie, and he was just phenomenal as a trainer and an educator.”
Willman said she still sees Fauci during Zoom calls with other medical officials.
“So to me Dr. Fauci is an American hero,” she said. “He led our nation through the AIDS crisis, through many other pandemics and he’ll lead us through this COVID crisis."
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