Millions of Americans Missed Vital Cancer Screenings in Pandemic's 2nd Year
Cancer screening rates were down again during 2021, the second year of the pandemic.
The number of women having cervical cancer screening dropped 4.4 million in 2021 compared to 2019, according to a study by the American Cancer Society (ACS). About 1.1 million fewer women were screened for breast cancer and about 700,000 fewer men were screened for prostate cancer.
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a detrimental effect on important cancer screenings in this country,” lead author Jessica Star, an associate scientist at the ACS, said in an ACS news release. “It's critical to get people back into their doctor's offices to help prevent and catch cancer at its earliest stages, when it might be easiest to treat.”
In the study, her team analyzed data from the 2019 and the 2021 National Health Interview Survey.
They looked for breast cancer screening in women ages 50 to 74, cervical cancer screening in women without a hysterectomy at ages 21 to 65, and prostate cancer screening for men ages 55 to 69. They also looked at colon cancer screening for men and women ages 50 to 75.
The study found that between 2019 and 2021, past-year screening decreased from 59.9% to 57.1% for breast cancer; from 45.3% to 39% for cervical cancer; and from 39.5% to 36.3% for prostate cancer.
These declines were most notable for Asian people.
Colon cancer screening rates remained unchanged. That's because an increase in stool testing, from 7% to 10.3%, offset a decline in colonoscopy, from 15.5% to 13.8%.
This increase in stool testing was most pronounced in Black folks and Hispanic people and in those of low economic status. ACS said this may close racial and economic gaps in colon cancer screening.
An increase in stool testing requires increased colonoscopy if results are positive, the authors noted.
“We can't stress enough the importance of returning to screening,” said study senior author Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, senior vice president of surveillance and health equity science at the ACS. “We need to continue health system and national cancer screening campaigns and focus our efforts toward people of color and lower socioeconomic standing to improve access to life-saving screenings.”
The findings were published Feb. 23 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
The National Cancer Institute has more on cancer screening.
SOURCE: American Cancer Society, news release, Feb. 23, 2023