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Study Finds Drop in Breast Cancer Screening Rates in Low-Income Communities During the COVID-19 Pandemic


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A new study found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, breast cancer screening rates declined among women aged 50 to 74 years at 32 community health centers that serve lower-income populations in the United States. The report, published by Stacey A. Fedewa, PhD, and colleagues in the journal Cancer, suggests that breast cancer screening rates within community clinics in low-income communities declined by 8% from July 2019 to July 2020, reversing an 18% improvement seen between July 2018 and July 2019.

This is one of the first studies to examine breast cancer screening rates among lower-income populations during the pandemic. Investigators led by Dr. Fedewa, of the American Cancer Society, examined breast cancer screening rates among 32 community health centers that provide health-care services to communities of color and lower-income populations and received grant funding from the American Cancer Society to improve their breast cancer screening rates.


This study is important because these populations have long-standing barriers to accessing care, lower breast screening rates, higher breast cancer mortality rates, and are especially vulnerable to health-care disruptions.
— Stacey A. Fedewa, PhD

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“This study is important because these populations have long-standing barriers to accessing care, lower breast screening rates, higher breast cancer mortality rates, and are especially vulnerable to health-care disruptions,” explained Dr. Fedewa.

Findings show that if 2018 to 2019 breast cancer screening rates trends continued through 2020, 63.3% of women would have been screened for breast cancer in 2020 compared to the 49.6% of women that did get screened. These data translate to potentially 47,517 fewer mammograms and 242 missed breast cancer diagnoses.

It is not yet known how negative outcomes will be distributed, and if breast cancer mortality disparities will widen. It is also not known how breast cancer screening services fared in community health centers nationwide, as the clinics included in this study were part of an American Cancer Society grant funded by the National Football League to improve breast cancer screening rates. Authors noted that it’s possible that interventions established before and continued through 2020 may have mitigated the pandemic’s effects on breast cancer screening services.

“Declining breast cancer screening rates in clinics serving communities with lower incomes that already have barriers to accessing health care and have higher breast cancer mortality rates means there is a need for additional policies to support and resources to identify women in need of screening,” said the authors. “These actions will be critical as communities and clinics return to screening with hopes of reaching prepandemic breast cancer screening rates in the communities they serve.”

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.
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