Millions of U.S. women missed breast, cervical and colon cancer screenings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study.
It found that compared to 2018, the number of women in 2020 who said they had breast cancer screening in the past year fell by 2.13 million (6%). The number of women who said they had cervical cancer screening in the past year fell by 4.47 million (11%).
Over the same period, colonoscopies for colon cancer detection dropped by 16% for both men and women.
"COVID-19 pandemic had an immediate impact in March and April of 2020, as screenings initially dropped by close to 80%," said senior author Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, a senior vice president at the American Cancer Society.
"Many people caught up on screenings later in 2020, but overall, the COVID-19 pandemic kept screenings down over the course of the entire year," he said in a society news release. "As we move forward, it's crucial to get people back into their doctor's offices to get screened."
Hispanic women and those in lower-income brackets had larger fall-offs in breast and cervical cancer screening, the study found. Asian/Pacific Islander women had a 27% drop in past-year breast cancer screening, the largest for any race. Meanwhile, Hispanic women had a 17% decline in past-year cervical cancer screening.
Decreases were nearly twice as high among people with less than a high school education, compared to college graduates. Rates among those without a high school diploma fell 11% for breast cancer screening and 17.7% for cervical cancer screening, compared to 6.1% and 9.5%, respectively, for college graduates.
Meanwhile, while colonoscopy screening for colon cancer fell for both women and men, stool testing was up 7%. Researchers said this suggests at-home testing may help maintain screening rates during major health care disruptions.
The American Cancer Society-led study was published June 3 in JAMA Network Open.
"The impact of these drops on stage at diagnosis and survival is not yet known, but it is something we need to monitor closely," Jemal said. "It is imperative that we understand the impact of lower screening rates on cancer outcomes among people of color and people of lower socioeconomic standing and also work to improve access to health care and cancer screenings for everyone."
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about screening.
SOURCE: American Cancer Society, news release, June 3, 2022