Breast Cancer Awareness Month: The Impact of the Covid 19 Pandemic on Cancer Screenings

Published by OptimisPT on

By: Jennifer Heiligman, PT, MPT

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  This is an annual campaign with the goal to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer.  When first established, one of the main objectives was to raise awareness regarding prevention and increase early detection by promoting cancer screenings.  This goal continues today for good reason.  Per when detected early before it spreads, the five year survival rate for breast cancer is 99%.  

As we have come to realize, the pandemic really did affect just about everything.  From toilet paper shortages to the inability to hug friends and family.  As we recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month, another item that fell victim to the pandemic is becoming more and more obvious. This item is the significant decrease in cancer screenings, including breast cancer, that occurred at the height of the pandemic between March and May of 2020.

This was especially true for the women of certain ethnic and racial groups and those in rural areas who are, unfortunately, already some of the most vulnerable.  The reason behind this decline is because at the beginning of the pandemic hospitals and health centers were cancelling elective procedures, including mammograms, to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus.  While intentions were good, it may now be leading to negative consequences.

In June 2021, a research study titled “COVID-19 impact on screening test volume through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer early detection program, January–June 2020, in the United States” was published by the journal Preventive Medicine.  Within this study it was found that compared to the previous 5 year average, in April 2020 breast cancer screenings declined by 87%.  By June there was some rebound, however, that month still saw a 39% decline compared to the past 5 years.

What are the potential consequences of this significant decline in breast cancer screenings?  Per a CDC Newsroom Release, “Prolonged delays in screening related to the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to delayed diagnoses, poor health consequences, and an increase in cancer disparities among women already experiencing health inequities.”   In addition, in another study published by Preventive Medicine in October 2021, “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on breast cancer early detection and screening”  it was found that “The resulting delays to diagnosis and treatment may lead to more intensive treatment requirements and, potentially, increased mortality.”

What can we do about it?  Get the word out!  Research has shown that early detection is the key to survival.  Take advantage of Breast Cancer Awareness Month to encourage your friends, family, patients and even strangers to get their screenings done.  Just because they missed their regularly scheduled screening during the pandemic, does not mean they have to wait another year.  The majority of screening centers are now open for business.  The quicker a missed screening is made up, the earlier a potential cancer can be caught, treated and cured.