Many parts of the United States saw a significant drop in breast cancer screening of older low-income women during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research shows.
The analysis of data from 32 community health centers that serve low-income people found that breast cancer screening for 50- to 74-year-old women dropped 8% between July 2019 and July 2020. That wiped out an 18% increase between July 2018 and July 2019.
"This study is important because these populations have long-standing barriers to accessing care, lower breast screening rates, higher breast cancer [death] rates, and are especially vulnerable to health care disruptions," said study leader Stacey Fedewa of the American Cancer Society.
If the 2018 to 2019 trend had continued through 2020, about 63% of women would have been screened for breast cancer in 2020 instead of the nearly 50% of women who actually were, the study found.
The decline in screening means the 32 centers had potentially 47,517 fewer mammograms and 242 missed breast cancer diagnoses, according to findings published Aug. 26 in the journal Cancer.
The researchers noted that clinics in the study were part of an American Cancer Society grant to improve breast cancer screening rates. It's unclear how the pandemic affected screening services in community health centers nationwide.
Programs that were introduced before and continued through 2020 may have reduced the pandemic's effects on breast cancer screening services, the study authors suggested.
Declining screening rates in clinics serving lower-income areas with barriers to health care access and higher breast cancer death rates underscore the need for additional resources to identify women in need of screening, the team noted in a journal news release.
"These actions will be critical as communities and clinics return to screening with hopes of reaching pre-pandemic breast cancer screening rates in the communities they serve," Fedewa and colleagues concluded.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on breast cancer screening.
SOURCE: Cancer, news release, Aug. 26, 2021