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Breast, cervical cancer screenings dropped over 80% in April 2020

par John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | August 23, 2021
Women's Health
Breast and cervical cancer screenings dropped in April 2020 due to restrictions and fears spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic
Breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings dropped 87% and 84%, respectively, in April 2020, compared to the previous five-year averages for the month, said the CDC.

The declines were recorded in the agency’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. “This study highlights a decline in cancer screening among women of racial and ethnic minority groups with low incomes, when their access to medical services decreased at the beginning of the pandemic. Study results reinforce the need to safely maintain routine healthcare services during the pandemic, especially when the healthcare environment meets COVID-19 safety guidelines,” Demetrius Parker, a communication specialist for the CDC, told HCB News.

Drops in breast cancer screening varied from 98% among American Indian/Alaskan Native women to 84% among Hispanic women. The number of screening tests for breast cancer dropped by 86% in metro areas, 88% in urban areas and 89% in rural areas, compared to the respective five-year averages for April.

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Decreases in cervical cancer screenings also varied from 92% among Asian American and Pacific Islander women to 82% among black women. Geographic declines were 85% and 82% in metro and rural areas, respectively, and 77% in urban areas.

The declines occurred alongside a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases that spring and were attributed to prolonged delays in screening brought on by the pandemic. Delays were caused by screening site closures, temporary suspensions of breast and cervical cancer screening services, stay-at-home protocols and fears among individuals of contracting COVID-19.

And while screening volumes began to recover among all groups by June 2020, clinicians should still expect to possibly see delayed diagnoses, poor health consequences and an increase in cancer disparities among women already experiencing health inequities, according to the authors.

“CDC encourages healthcare professionals to help minimize delays in testing by continuing routine cancer screening for women having symptoms or at high risk for breast or cervical cancer,” said Parker.

The study assessed the impact of the pandemic on the Early Detection Program’s screening services between January and June 2020.

The findings were published in the journal, Preventative Medicine.

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