The COVID-19 outbreak has significantly affected almost all aspects of people’s lives, having a serious impact on health, the economy and society. As with other industries, healthcare hasn’t been left untouched by this global pandemic.

2020 was a difficult year for the breast imaging industry and even more challenging for patients. The pandemic attributed to a decline in screening mammograms. This has shown to have a negative impact on women’s health, leading to fewer breast cancer detections last year and later stage detections this year.

Why are we seeing fewer breast cancer diagnosis?

Breast cancer screening on hold in radiology facilities

In mid-March 2020, healthcare facilities across the United States began canceling and limiting elective care, including screenings, following the recommendations provided by local and state governments, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the American College of Radiology, major Breast Cancer patient associations, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Therefore, numerous US radiology centers stopped scheduling routine mammograms for people without breast cancer symptoms. Many centers across the country operated this way through early summer.

Women postponing routine screening

Women in the US were also postponing routine mammograms for a variety of reasons brought on by the pandemic. In fact, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)’s fourth annual National Cancer Opinion Survey showed that:

– 64% of respondents reported that their screening mammograms appointments were delayed or missed during the COVID-19 pandemic;
– 66% of them claimed it was their own choice;
– 63% feel anxious about being behind on their cancer screening

Some of the reasons women stated for skipping routine screenings included lack of insurance and/or access to care, low income or unemployment and comfort level during the pandemic.

What does this mean for women’s breast health?

Substantial drop in breast cancer screening volumes

In the aftermath of the declaration of the COVID-19 national emergency from January 20 to April 21, the number of breast exams in the United States dropped by 94%, according to a study published by the Epic Health Research Network.

Between mid-March and mid-June 2020, approximately 13 million breast cancer screenings were missed . Even though the weekly screening volumes started to grow afterward, they were still 29 % below their pre-pandemic level in June 2020.

Decline in the volume of newly identified breast cancers

Subsequently, in the period from the beginning of March to mid-April, 51.8% fewer breast cancers were diagnosed, in comparison to the previous year.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, fewer women (approximately 65,000) were screened which led to more cancers left undiagnosed or discovered at a later stage.

What can radiology facilities do?

Follow CDC guidelines and communicate safe practices to patients

Integrate CDC-recommended safety measures in your facility and communicate these safety measures to your patients. Make women feel comfortable by clearing stating mask policies, hygiene and distancing procedures, and explaining how these safety measures are kept top-of-mind during the screening process.

Reach out to women

Be proactive in your outreach to women. Invite them to schedule a routine mammogram or to re-schedule a screening they may have missed. Spread positive messages and health reminders through your social media channels, website, blog and emails. Remind women about the importance of screening and explain that the benefits of regular screenings outweigh the risks.

Improve work efficiency

As women start to schedule missed screenings, radiologists may find an uptick in workload. The ability to read more mammograms in less time through AI technology can help. Utilizing the right set of tools and technology in your radiology practice can improve detection accuracy, boost productivity and save more lives through quicker breast cancer detections.

To learn more about how MammoScreen™ can help improve work efficiency and identify cancers earlier, contact us for a demo.