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COVID-19 reduced cancer screenings by millions in 2020

ACS-led study shows pandemic’s impact on breast, cervical, colorectal screenings.

A study released today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Open Network shows the number of women in the US who reported having a recent breast or cervical cancer screening dropped by 2.13 million (6%) and 4.47 million (11%) respectively in 2020, compared to 2018. This study, led by American Cancer Society researchers, is the first of its kind to evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer screenings nationally, using population-based data.

Researchers stressed the need to improve access to cancer screenings, particularly for minorities and lower-income populations. 

“COVID-19 pandemic had an immediate impact in March and April of 2020, as screenings initially dropped by close to 80%,” said Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, senior vice president, surveillance and health equity science, and senior author of the study. “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. As we move forward, it’s crucial to get people back into their doctor’s offices to get screened.”

The study also found that between 2018 and 2020 colonoscopies for colorectal cancer detection in the past year dropped by 16% for both men and women but was offset by an increase in stool testing of 7%. This showed the promise of at-home testing to maintain population-wide screening rates during a major healthcare disruption.

Other ACS authors contributing to the study include: Jessica Star, Dr. Priti Bandi, Adair Minihan, Dr. Xuesong Han, and Dr. Robin Yabroff. Dr. Stacey Fedewa, now at Emory University, is lead author of the study.

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