CDC: Sharp decline in cancer screenings for women during COVID-19 pandemic

The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention published a report on June 30 that found that the total number of cancer screening tests received by women through the health agency’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Breast cancer screenings dropped by 87% while cervical cancer screenings declined by 84% during April 2020, as compared with the previous 5-year averages for that month, the CDC said. 

The CDC says delays in screenings for diseases like cancer may lead to prolonged diagnoses and poor health consequences. 

Low-income minority women made up the majority of people who did not receive screenings in that time period. 

The CDC says declines in breast cancer screening varied from 84% percent among Hispanic women to 98% among American Indian/Alaskan Native women.

Declines in cervical cancer screening varied from 82% among Black women to 92% among Asian Pacific Islander women, according to the CDC. 

"This study highlights a decline in cancer screening among women of racial and ethnic minority groups with low incomes when their access to medical services decreased at the beginning of the pandemic, said Amy DeGroff, PhD, MPH, CDC health scientist and lead author. "They reinforce the need to safely maintain routine health care services during the pandemic, especially when the health care environment meets COVID-19 safety guidelines."

CDC researchers say screening declines coincided with the explosion of COVID-19 cases during the onset of the pandemic in spring 2020.

Site closures and temporary suspension of cancer screening services due to the deadly pandemic stretching medical resources thin would have been factors that contributed to the decline of necessary screenings. 

"The requirement or recommendation to stay at home and the fear of contracting COVID-19 also likely deterred individuals from seeking health care services, including cancer screening," the CDC wrote. 

"CDC encourages health care professionals to help minimize delays in testing by continuing routine cancer screening for women having symptoms or at high risk for breast or cervical cancer," said DeGroff. "The Early Detection Program can help women overcome barriers to health equity by educating them about the importance of routine screening, addressing their concerns about COVID-19 transmission, and helping them to safely access screening through interventions like patient navigation."