Sen. Amy Klobuchar is calling on folks to keep up their routine medical checkups after revealing that she was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year.
“I wanted to share an update on my health,” the Minnesota senator and former Democratic presidential candidate wrote in a Medium post on Thursday, which went viral across Twitter and Google.
Klobuchar, 61, wrote that doctors found calcifications, or small white spots, during a routine mammogram in February. A biopsy revealed she had Stage 1A breast cancer, which she treated by getting a lumpectomy in her right breast to remove the cancer, followed by radiation treatment.
“The treatment went well,” she said. “At this point my doctors believe that my chances of developing cancer again are no greater than the average person.
But she noted that many Americans — herself included — have put off seeking medical attention during the pandemic. Two recent analyses by Urban Institute researchers found that about 36% of U.S. adults have chosen to delay or go without medical treatment due to fears of being exposed to COVID-19, and 41% of people already diagnosed with chronic health conditions have done the same. Mammograms and colonoscopies plummeted by up to 70% in the early months of the pandemic, according to a recent report published in JAMA Network Open.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has also warned that many kids across the country have missed their wellness exams and routine childhood vaccinations as the pandemic has lingered on, citing an “alarming” drop in pediatric office visits.
Indeed, the American Cancer Society notes that screenings such as mammograms in adults increase the chance of detecting certain cancers early, when they are most likely to be curable, and before they have a chance to spread.
Klobuchar echoed concerns that delaying health care could have dire consequences. “More than one in three adults reported delaying or forgoing health care because of coronavirus-related concerns. Studies have found that thousands of people who missed their mammogram due to the pandemic may be living with undetected breast cancer,” she wrote. “Over and over, doctors are seeing patients who are being treated for more serious conditions that could have been caught earlier.”
“I also want to call attention to the fact that many people have been delaying physicals and routine examinations because of the pandemic. I know that because I delayed mine.”
— Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in American women (second to skin cancer), and Klobuchar’s case is just one of about 281,550 expected to be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, according to the American Cancer Society. And about 43,600 women will die from breast cancer this year.
The disease can also take an enormous financial toll — even for patients with health insurance. About one in four American cancer survivors have had to borrow money, go into debt or file for bankruptcy to cover their medical expenses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2019. The annualized medical costs associated with breast cancer are about $34,000 in the first year after diagnosis, as Robin Yabroff, the senior scientific director of health services research at the American Cancer Society, previously told MarketWatch. And about $25.8 billion was spent on medical care for patients with breast cancer across the country in 2015.
Those figures don’t factor in lost productivity at work, either, or the hit that cancer can take on many survivors’ careers. More than half (58%) of the survivors surveyed in a 2019 Colorado Cancer Center study said that their cancer or its treatment interfered with the physical demands of their job, and 54% said that it hurt their ability to complete mental tasks at work. The Pink Fund, a non-profit breast cancer organization, reports that between 20% to 30% of women will lose their jobs or are unable to work due to a disability stemming from their breast cancer treatment.
Klobuchar thanked her medical team and her family for helping her to continue working throughout her treatment, which also coincided with her father’s death in May. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“I want to thank the incredible doctors and nurses I had the privilege to work with, my friends and loving family — including my husband John and daughter Abigail — for their support during the surgery and radiation, which also coincided with my dad’s illness and death,” she wrote. “Their support allowed me to continue my work with my colleagues on major pandemic and economic legislation, as well as chairing the joint Senate January 6th investigation and the For the People hearings while undergoing cancer treatment.”