(HealthDay News) — At the end of 2021, population-based cancer screening remained below prepandemic levels for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers, according to a research letter published in JAMA Oncology.

Allison H. Oakes, PhD, from Trilliant Health in Brentwood, Tennessee, and colleagues used the Trilliant Health all-payer claims and encounters database to examine patterns in breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer screening and diagnosis before and during the pandemic. The cohort included 306 million patients with medical claims from January 2017 to December 2021.

For breast cancer, the median quarterly rate of prepandemic screening mammography was 8216 per 100,000 beneficiaries. This declined to 4951 in quarter (Q) 2 of 2020 — a 40% decrease — but rebounded to prepandemic levels by Q3 and Q4 of 2020. However, it declined again to a median rate of 7374 per 100,000 beneficiaries in 2021. Quarterly deficits ranged from 6% to 17%.

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A similar trend was seen for cervical cancer. The median quarterly rate of prepandemic screening was 5602 per 100,000 beneficiaries, which fell to 3563 in Q2 of 2020 — a 36% decline. Cervical cancer screening rebounded toward the prepandemic median by Q3 of 2020, then progressively declined from 4853 in Q4 of 2020 to 4246 in Q4 of 2021.

Colorectal cancer screening also decreased from a prepandemic median of 3162 per 100,000 beneficiaries to 1746 in Q2 of 2020 — a 45% difference. From Q3 of 2020 to Q4 of 2021, quarterly colorectal cancer screening ranged from 82% to 90% of the prepandemic median.

Prevalence rates for the 3 cancers declined by 6.0% to 7.1% between 2019 and 2020 and an additional 4.8% to 6.1% between 2020 and 2021.

“The pattern we found suggests a substantial proportion of forgone care through 2021,” the authors wrote.

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