COVID Won’t Stop Cancer: Communicating the Importance of Screening

The COVID-19 pandemic placed a pause on routine health checkups and cancer screenings in an effort to keep people safe. More than a year later, we know delays in cancer screening and diagnosis will have long-term impacts on cancer mortality, as it is much more challenging to treat cancers detected at later stages.

The National Cancer Institute released predictive models for breast and colorectal cancer incidence. They suggest the United States will experience 10,000 more deaths in the next decade from just these two types of cancer, as a direct result of only six months of COVID-related delays.

In January 2021, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the American Cancer Society, and other leading organizations across the country—including Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah—endorsed resuming cancer screening and treatment during the pandemic. The coalition of 76 organizations published an open letter urging the public to make and keep appointments.

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Communications and Public Affairs team partnered with Community Outreach and Engagement staff in support of this public information effort. Together, they developed bilingual English and Spanish materials that included an updated screening webpage with complementary social media graphics, provider reference pocket cards, printed brochures, digital and print advertisements, blog posts featuring patient stories, and digital display graphics shown on monitors in clinics and affiliate hospitals throughout the Mountain West. This cancer screening campaign received a 2021 Health+Wellness Design Award from Graphic Design USA and was highlighted in the PAMN 2021 Conference Community Outreach and Engagement session.

As we head into fall and the pandemic continues, so does our cancer screening campaign. We have had strong engagement across social media—particularly with patient stories. The updated screening webpage,, had a significant increase in page views from January-August 2021, up 225% from the same period the year before.

Time will tell if our collective efforts to communicate about cancer screening pays off. For now, get your mammogram, colonoscopy, Pap/HPV test, and skin check—and encourage those you love to do the same.

Meredith Vehar, MPA
Creative Director, Communications
Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

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