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Cancer screenings plunge more than 90% due to COVID-19

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | May 06, 2020
CT Rad Oncology Women's Health X-Ray
Breast and cervical cancer screenings fell by 94% while colon cancer screening fell by 86%.
Certain types of cancer screenings dropped more than 90% in March — a consequence of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to software provider Epic.

Appointments for cervix, colon and breast cancer screenings dropped between 86% and 94%, compared to average volumes three years prior to the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case in the U.S. The decline is being attributed primarily to cancellations brought on by stay-at-home orders as well as recommendations to delay non-urgent outpatient care, and capacity limitations will impact screening volumes even after the pandemic ends, STAT reported.

"I anticipate that cancer screenings such as mammograms, pap smears, and colonoscopies will increase as people are able to get in to the clinic to get them done," Jackie Gerhart, a physician on Epic’s Clinical Informatics Team, told HCB News. "This will depend on the capacity for clinics to do these tests. Screening tests, by definition, are done when the patient is asymptomatic. A delay of 4 weeks may not be significant, but a delay of 4 months might be."
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Cancellations of cancer screenings rose even before Mid-March when stay-at-home orders were issued in various states and counties, according to Epic’s data. The company evaluated the records of 2.7 million U.S. patients from 190 hospitals in 23 states.

Drops in screening were chalked up to stay-at-home orders and recommendations to delay non-urgent outpatient care.

The drop during the pandemic period was higher than expected under normal variation, with breast and cervical cancer screenings falling by 94% compared to averages between 2017 and 2019. Colon cancer exams dropped by 86%.

A similar study by Komodo Health — which assessed records for 320 million U.S. patients — found cervical cancer screenings dropped by as much as 68% between March 19 and April 20, compared to the previous 11 weeks and a comparable period last year. Declines in testing for cholesterol, diabetes, and active or recurrent cancer were also observed, especially in COVID-19 hot spots like New York and Massachusetts.

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