CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)– New research shows the pandemic has severely impacted regular breast cancer screenings, a worrisome finding for a disease that has increased more than 20% since 2008.

The American College of Radiology reports a 70% decrease in breast cancer screenings amid the pandemic nationally and internationally.

The trend is impacting Lowcountry oncologists and the patients who are now fighting against lost time.

35-year-old Melannie Bachman was living an active life as a freediving instructor and certified yoga instructor when she felt a lump in her breast during a self-exam.

“When the pandemic hit, the shop I was working for at the time stayed open and so we had let go of a lot of people. It was just myself and the owner which increased the workload drastically during the whole pandemic and that’s also when I find my mass in my breast,” Bachman said.

Overwhelmed with work, the North Charleston resident decided to delay going to the doctor.

 “It was 9 months or a little bit longer when it started changing shapes and growing exponentially and getting sharp around the edges and my gut knew immediately something was wrong,” she said.

Living paycheck to paycheck and with no health insurance Bachman turned to the Department of Health and Environmental Control and American Cancer Society’s Best Chance Network, a program that provides free breast and cervical screenings to South Carolina women. Through that program, Bachman was able to get diagnosed and has since undergone four months of chemotherapy and a bilateral mastectomy.

“I was one of those who put off my screenings and I am so grateful that we caught it at stage two but if I had waited a month longer or even few weeks longer,” Bachman said. “Triple-negative breast cancer it is the fastest-growing, fastest-spreading, most deadly breast cancer,” she continued.

She is not alone. Dr. Jennifer Beatty, owner and founder of The Breast Place, said the pandemic is still impacting the way people seek care.

“People are so afraid. They are so afraid of Covid-19 that they can’t even come in and get tested. It is scary because cancer is not going to sit back and wait for the virus to go away,” Beatty said. “So really, you just need to believe and come in,” she added.

Dr. Jennifer Beatty, DO, FACS

The oncologist and surgeon said her practice has seen the consequences of screening delays.

“We are seeing inflammatory breast cancer,” she said. “That is when the mass is so big that it is coming through the skin. I can tell you since pandemic we have seen more inflammatory breast cancers than we have ever seen in my career,” she continued.

Bachman and Beatty shared their stories in an effort to get women and men back to their regular screenings.

“You can survive cancer and that is why I love my job,” Beatty said. “90% of my patients will live but you have to be diagnosed and you have to be treated so do it for yourself and don’t be scared and don’t be delayed,” she said.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that an excess of more than 10,000 people will die from breast or colorectal cancer over the next ten years because of pandemic screening delays.

“I have learned that love is great,” she said slowly. “My heart has been busted open in through this cancer journey,” she added.

Melannie Bachman