COVID: Mammogram Rates Rebound, Concerns Remain

“Those kinds of things could have an impact in terms of the outcomes. It’s one thing to delay screening for three to six months, for example, but we get a little more worried when we’re delaying for a whole year or even, thinking more worst case, folks who have been more dramatically impacted by the pandemic, maybe loss of employment or loss of health insurance, who maybe will drop out of screening altogether,” Sprague said.

The rebound was also stronger among white and Black women than Asian and Hispanic women, according to the study, though it isn’t clear why. The study was a sampling of radiology facilities around the United States who had a diverse population as a whole, Sprague said, but it may also reflect what was happening at some of these specific sites.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Sprague said further research is ongoing to understand the impact of the pandemic on breast cancer detection and outcomes.

Another recent report found that while cancer screening rates are beginning to rebound, patients are being diagnosed with more advanced cancers than before the pandemic.

“The trend toward more advanced disease, while alarming, does not automatically mean worse outcomes for patients,” Dr. Thomas Eichler, chairman of the American Society for Radiation Oncology, told reporters during a briefing on the findings last week. “Modern treatments, such as stereotactic radiation therapy or immunotherapy drugs, may offset some of the threat from advanced-stage cancers.”

Dr. Julie Gralow, chief medical officer for the American Society of Clinical Oncology, noted that another demographic group, those over age 70, had more delays of diagnostic mammograms early in the pandemic, although those numbers also rebounded.

Predictions earlier in the pandemic assumed that screening numbers wouldn’t rebound for six months, but that seems to have happened much more quickly, Gralow said. That could mean that there are fewer deaths above average than experts had expressed concern about earlier, she noted.

Now, it’s important to reassure those who have still not returned that it’s time to get back to routine health maintenance and that includes breast, cervical and colon cancer screening, she said.

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