US breast, cervical cancer screenings plummeted at start of pandemic, CDC study finds

In April 2020, screenings for breast and cervical cancer in the U.S. fell dramatically compared to the previous five-year averages for that month, according to a study led by CDC researchers published June 30 in Preventive Medicine.

Using data from the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which provides screening services to low-income women and women with inadequate insurance, researchers examined how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the number of screenings completed from January to June 2020. 

Breast cancer screenings dropped by 87 percent and cervical cancer screenings by 84 percent in April 2020, compared to the previous five-year averages for the same time period, findings showed. Screening volumes began to rebound by May and June, though were still down by about 40 percent compared to prior years. 

American Indian/Alaskan Native women saw the steepest drop in breast cancer screenings at 98 percent. For cervical cancer screenings, Asian Pacific Islander women experienced the largest drops at 92 percent. 

When data were stratified by region, New York saw the greatest drops in both breast (96 percent) and cervical cancer (95 percent) screenings.

As a result, cancer health disparities may worsen, researchers said. 

"The declines in breast cancer screening test volume due to COVID-19 identified in this study may lead to later stage breast cancer diagnosis and mortality while declines in cervical cancer screening may result in increased cervical cancer incidence, later stage diagnoses, and mortality, furthering cancer disparities among this population." 

To view the full study, click here.

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