Sharp Declines in Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

A study examined COVID-19’s effect on the NBCCEDP’s screening services during January to June 2020.

The total number of cancer screening tests received by women through the program declined by 87% for breast cancer and 84% for cervical cancer during April 2020 as compared with the previous 5-year averages for that month. 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.

  • Declines in breast cancer screening varied from 84% percent among Hispanic women to 98% among American Indian and Alaska Native women.
  • Declines in cervical cancer screening varied from 82% among Black women to 92% among Asian Pacific Islander women.
  • In April, the number of screening tests for breast cancer declined in metro (86%), urban (88%), and rural (89%) areas compared to the respective five-year averages. The decline for cervical cancer screening tests was 85% and 82% for metro and rural areas, respectively, and 77% for urban areas.
  • Screening volumes had begun to recover in all groups by June 2020, the end of the observation period.

The Reach and Health Impacts of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program

The articles in this special issue of Cancer Causes & Control report on the reach and health impact of the NBCCEDP, and detail the challenges and opportunities in improving access to cancer screening for all women.

Key Findings

  • About one-third of women who are eligible for the NBCCEDP were not screened for cervical cancer, either within or outside the program.
  • About 60% of all women who are eligible for the NBCCEDP were not screened for breast cancer.
  • Compared to other women with breast cancer, women diagnosed with breast cancer through the NBCCEDP were diagnosed at a later stage.

Among women diagnosed through the NBCCCEDP—

  • Distant-stage breast cancer was more common among older women, Black women, and those whose mammograms were diagnostic.
  • Distant-stage cervical cancer was more common among older women and those who had not been screened within the last 5 years.

National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program: Two Decades of Service to Underserved Women

The articles in this supplemental issue of the journal Cancer describe the aspects of the NBCCEDP, and show consistent value in the program beyond its original purpose of detecting cancers in underserved women.

Key Findings

  • Partnerships at national and local levels with national organizations and their members, community-based organizations, government agencies, tribes, healthcare systems, and professional organizations have played a critical role in achieving NBCCEDP goals.
  • The NBCCEDP has made tremendous contributions to breast and cervical cancer screening for Alaska Native and American Indian women and strengthened local tribal screening capacity.
  • Data use is important for quality assurance, which monitors the quality of services provided, helps identify issues with the services provided, determines the causes of the issues, and checks whether these issues were corrected.