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Rates of Breast Cancer Screenings Dipped in Low-Income Communities During Pandemic

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

This is one of the first studies to examine BCSRs among lower-income populations during the pandemic. Investigators led by Stacey Fedewa, PhD, of the American Cancer Society (ACS), examined BCSRs among 32 community health centers that provide health care services to communities of color and lower-income populations and received grant funding from the ACS to improve their BCSRs.

“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,” Fedewa says.

Findings show that if 2018 to 2019 BCSR trends continued through 2020, 63.3% of women would have been screened for breast cancer in 2020 compared with 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 whether 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 ACS grant funded by the National Football League to improve BCSRs.

Authors note 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,” the authors say. “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.”

— Source: American Cancer Society