Why your annual health screenings can’t wait another day.

Fall weather is on the way, and with it will come cider festivals, hayrides, and evenings with friends around the fire pit. It’s a great time of year to enjoy the great outdoors while watching the leaves change colors and decorating for the fall season. It’s also a great time to get yourself ready for the generally less-active winter months ahead by scheduling a visit with your primary care physician.

For many people, it’s been too long since they’ve visited their PCP, and the reason is COVID. In the beginning of the pandemic, routine care was put on hold to free up resources for COVID patients, and also to help protect healthy people from exposure to the disease in health care settings. As a result, screening for breast, colorectal and cervical cancer nationally fell by more than 80% initially and has yet to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels, according to a report on COVID-19 and cancer by the American Cancer Society.

While the numbers locally were not as dramatic, “Some patients are still neglecting to visit their PCP in general and are missing annual physicals and screenings that could impact their current and future health.” says Megan Rhoades, RN/BSN with St. Clair Health. In the near term, the effects may not be immediately evident, but that could change in the longer term.

“Later screening means delayed treatments,” says Kacie Jankowski, Cancer Control Strategic Manager with the American Cancer Society. “Unfortunately, we anticipate future mortality for cancer to rise. That’s something we haven’t seen for more than 20 years, and it’s alarming.”

The US Prevention Service Task Force recommends annual screenings for a variety of cancers including breast, colon, prostate, skin, cervical and lung (for current or former smokers). Beyond cancer, they also recommend screening for aortic aneurism, diabetes (based on age and weight), osteoporosis, insomnia, STDs in young patients, substance abuse and mental health conditions. That latter category is one that has seen a dramatic immediate upturn.

“We know there was a huge increase in both depression and anxiety during the pandemic restrictions,” says St. Clair Medical Group primary care physician Amanda Hercules-Smith, M.D. “Along with social isolation which causes a variety of problems on its own, people were dealing with job losses, financial worries, kids attending school remotely and other stressors. In patients who have come back in for their annual physicals, we’re seeing a lot of positive screenings because of that.”

Now, as we’re making plans to enjoy the everything that autumn offers, it’s time to make plans for annual wellness exams for everyone in your family.

“With an annual wellness exam, we take the time to create a personalized prevention plan with each patient,” Dr. Hercules-Smith says. “We establish health goals, talk about issues they feel are affecting their quality of life, discuss changes in family history and how to manage risk factors. We want our patients to be better equipped to advocate for their own health, and that’s what a wellness visit provides.”

St. Clair is working to ensure that patients are completely comfortable as they return for their annual check-ups. “We’re taking every precaution to ensure a safe environment,“ Dr. Hercules-Smith says. “We’re absolutely ready to see you in person.”

In addition to wellness exams, St. Clair is once again offering a variety of free screening events to everyone in the community, with the hope of offering the full pre-pandemic schedule in 2022.

“In April, we brought back our women’s wellness event which offered free mammograms,” says Megan Rhoades. “Our next mammogram event will be held on September 25th, and we’re also planning a free prostate screening event in November.”

Next year, in addition to free breast and prostate screenings, the slate will also include two free skin cancer screenings — one at the beginning of summer and one at the end — as well as a colon cancer events and the Look Good, Feel Better Program that provides and makeup kit and class to patients.

To schedule your annual wellness exam or to find a St. Clair Health primary care physician near you, click here. And visit the Programs and Events page at stclair.org to see upcoming free screenings and other opportunities to take a step toward better health this fall.