Breast cancer is the second deadliest type of cancer in women, trailing only lung cancer. What’s more, an estimated one in eight women will develop the condition at some point.1
These statistics underscore the importance of early detection. Screening for breast cancer is paramount, as it reduces mortality.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many cancelations and postponements in screenings across cancer types. As a result, thousands of patients have been left without access to essential, potentially life-saving health care services.2
Researchers Examined COVID-19’s Effect on Breast Cancer Screening in Lower-Income Populations
A team of researchers led by Stacey A. Fedewa, PhD, of the American Cancer Society, examined to what extent the coronavirus outbreak affected access to breast cancer screening among women in lower-income populations.3 The investigators looked into breast cancer screening rates in women aged 50 to 74 years across 32 community health centers in the United States.
“This is important because these populations have long standing barriers to accessing care, lower breast cancer screening rates, and higher breast cancer mortality rates,” the researchers noted. These lower-income populations are “especially vulnerable to health care disruptions,” they added.
Breast Cancer Screening Rates Declined in a Reversal of a Previous Trend
The investigators identified an 8% decrease in breast cancer screening rates across the 32 clinics from July 2019 to July 2020. This decline in screenings is in stark contrast to the year prior. From July 2018 to July 2019, breast cancer screening rates in the same clinics had increased by 18%.
The investigators noted that, had 2018-2019 trends persisted, 63.3% of women would have undergone breast cancer screening in 2020 instead of the 49.6% that did amid the pandemic. In raw numbers, these figures translated to 47,517 fewer mammograms and 242 missed breast cancer diagnoses.
A Call to Action
The researchers concluded that declining breast cancer rates “call for policies to support and resources to identify women in need of screening.”
1. How common is breast cancer? American Cancer Society. Revised May 7, 2021. Accessed November 30, 2021.
2. Cancino RS, Su Z, Mesa R, Tomlinson GE, Wang J. The impact of COVID-19 on cancer screening: challenges and opportunities. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7599065/. JMIR Cancer. 2020 Jul-Dec;6(2):e21697. Published online 2020 Oct 29: doi: 10.2196/21697.
3. Fedewa SA, Cotter MM, Wehling KA, Wysocki K, Killewald R, Makaroff L. Changes in breast cancer screening rates among 32 community health centers during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.33859. Cancer. 2021. doi:10.1002/cncr.33859.