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Coronavirus crisis forces breast cancer patients to put surgeries on hold

DEARBORN, Mich. – Concerns about spreading the coronavirus (COVID-19) have most surgeries on hold, and that includes surgeries for many cancers.

Most people wouldn’t consider surgery for breast cancer to be elective, but the reality is that everyone but the patients with the most serious cases have had surgeries postponed.

Dr. Majd Aburabia, a surgeon at Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, spoke to Local 4 about the challenges of caring for patients caught in the pandemic.

“Dealing with breast cancer in general is anxiety-provoking under normal circumstances,” Aburabia said. “We have been postponing elective surgery. Elective means it’s something that can wait a couple of weeks or a couple of months without putting the patient at risk. Thankfully, most breast cancer surgeries fall in that category. Most breast cancers are not aggressive enough that they need to be in the operating room immediately.”

Whether someone needs surgery right now is determined on a case-by-case basis. Ssing national guidelines for patients who have to wait, they are altering treatment plans, starting them on cancer drugs or chemotherapy.

“For women who need chemo, we start that sooner than later,” Aburabia said. “We’re hoping that pretty soon, once things open up and it becomes less risky for the patients, we’ll get them back into the door and get their surgeries done.”

Aburabia said she has been impressed by how her patients are handling this unprecedented obstacle.

“They totally understand what we’re dealing with and they’re managing their feelings about it very well,” Aburabia said. “You’d be amazed what you’re capable of when you’re put in a situation.”

Aburabia said if you do feel a lump or notice changes in your breast during this time, it’s still very important to call your doctor immediately. They are still seeing patients who need to be seen, and they are taking numerous precautions to reduce any risk of exposure during visits.

Routine screening mammograms are also on hold. Doctors don’t have concerns about the delay in detecting new cases of cancer yet, but they want patients to reschedule those screenings as soon as possible, once it’s safe.

A small delay won’t make a difference in the majority of cases, but skipping that mammogram until next year could have a negative impact.


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