A man in his 40s, wearing a mask, having his temperature taken during a doctor’s visit.


Avoiding illness at your appointment

Is potential exposure to a contagious illness like COVID-19 keeping you from your appointment? Here’s how to protect yourself so you can get the screenings you need to check your health.

Are you putting off your routine health appointments because you’re worried about being exposed to a contagious illness? (You’re not alone. In the 2024 Early Detection Survey, 30% of U.S. adults 21+ said potential exposure to contagious illnesses like COVID-19, the flu, or even a cold negatively impacts whether they go to their routine medical appointments.)

While it’s important to stay safe (and risk factors are different for everyone), it’s recommended for most that you get your routine cancer screenings done and take precautions to reduce your risk of contracting an illness at your appointments.

Before you go: get vaccinated

Vaccines are available for some respiratory illnesses like the flu, COVID-19 and RSV (if eligible). These vaccines have been proven safe and effective and can help protect you from getting sick or severely ill with these viruses. Make sure you stay up to date by getting COVID-19 booster shots as recommended and getting an updated flu shot every fall.

(Note: Some people cannot get vaccinated or will experience limited protection from the vaccines due to medical conditions. Talk to your health care provider about your specific circumstances.)

Mammograms and COVID-19 vaccine

Like all vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine can produce some side effects, including swollen lymph nodes under your arm (the swollen lymph nodes would be under the arm in which you received the injection). If you have a mammogram to screen for breast cancer soon after the injection, swollen lymph nodes could show up on the breast image and prompt concern and/or additional testing that would otherwise be unnecessary.

Do not postpone or cancel your routine mammogram due to this potential side effect without first discussing it with your health care provider. If you have a mammogram soon after you receive the COVID-19 vaccine, be sure to tell your provider when and in which arm you received the injection.

Wear a mask

Even if you are fully vaccinated, wearing a mask can reduce your risk of becoming infected with a contagious illness and possibly spreading it to others. You might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of the transmission of viruses in your community.

Ask about other precautions

It’s ok to ask! It’s understandable to be nervous about visiting your doctor or dentist, especially during fall or winter when there are often high levels of viral transmission. The best way to assess your risk is to talk to your provider’s office and ask what steps they are taking to limit risk of exposure to contagious illnesses.

Unlike the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many offices have now eliminated some precautions and have made masking and vaccination optional. If this is the case, you may still request to see a provider who is vaccinated against flu and COVID-19 or ask your provider to wear a mask. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your health!

Some precautions from your health care provider may include:

  • Requirements that all health care providers and additional staff be vaccinated.
  • A call-in or virtual check-in process so you can check in from your car or outside.
  • Limited seating in the waiting area so you can maintain physical distance from staff and other patients.
  • Hand sanitizer available throughout the office.
  • Frequent and thorough cleaning of all spaces and high-touch areas.
  • Protective equipment worn by all health care providers and office staff who have contact with patients.
  • Temperature checks and symptom and exposure questionnaires for all incoming patients.
  • Requirements for patients to test negative for COVID-19 a certain number of hours/days before a procedure, such as a colonoscopy.

Risk is personal

Screening guidelines are never one-size-fits-all, and everyone’s risk factors are different. When deciding when to schedule your routine screenings, you should weigh the potential risk of exposure to contagious illnesses against the potential risk of a late or missed cancer diagnosis. If you are immunocompromised (if you have a weakened immune system) or are at high risk for complications from contracting getting sick, call your health care provider for guidance.

At-home screenings

For colorectal cancer, at-home screening may be an option for you (if you are of average risk).+ Talk to your health care provider about which colorectal cancer screening test is right for you.

Below is a brief overview of the different types of tests available along with interval suggestions.

Test Screening Interval
Colonoscopy Every 10 years
Virtual colonoscopy* Every 5 years
Flexible sigmoidoscopy* Every 5 years
High sensitivity guaiac based fecal occult blood test (HS gFOBT)*  Every year
Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)*  Every year
Multitarget stool DNA test (mt-sDNA)*  Every 3 years