Breast, cervical and colon cancer screening rates remain below pre-pandemic levels

The researchers expected to find a sharp increase in cancer screenings in 2021 to offset a dramatic drop in cancer screenings at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cancer screening rates remain below pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, recent report says research paper published by Epic Research.

At the start of the pandemic, there was a dramatic drop in routine cancer screenings, with patients avoiding doctor’s offices for fear of contagion and healthcare organizations focusing on COVID-19 testing and cases. . A previous study published by Epic Research found that breast and cervical cancer screenings were down 94% at the start of the pandemic and colon cancer screenings were down 86%.

The recent research paper is based on information gathered from a database with more than 126 million patients from 156 Epic organizations, including 889 hospitals and 19,420 clinics. Researchers looked at screening rates for breast cancer, cervical cancer and colon cancer through 2017 to establish a baseline of pre-pandemic screening rate.

The recent study presents several key data points for the period of January 2021 to October 2021.

  • Breast cancer screening rate was 2.7% below pre-pandemic screening rate baseline
  • Colon cancer screening rate was 3.4% below pre-pandemic screening rate baseline
  • Cervical cancer screening rate was 10.0% lower than pre-pandemic screening rate baseline
  • These screening rates translate to approximately 68,000 missed breast cancer screenings, 27,000 missed colon cancer screenings, and 9,000 missed cervical cancer screenings.

“Despite the reopening of many clinics in the spring and summer of 2021, we are still seeing routine cancer screening rates below expectations. Further delays in cancer screening could lead to delayed cancer diagnoses, which could increase morbidity and mortality and exacerbate existing health care disparities, as well as increasing health care costs Ongoing efforts to increase patient access to affordable screenings are important for recovery of COVID in our country,” the study co-authors wrote.

Interpret the data

The recent study is the fourth study conducted by Epic Research on cancer screening rates before and during the pandemic, the senior author of the recent study told HealthLeaders. “We looked at how cancer screening rates have changed since the start of the pandemic. Initially there was a dramatic decrease and then there was a subsequent rebound, although cancer screening rates were not still not quite where we expected them to be,” Chris said. Mast, MD, vice president of clinical informatics at Epic Research.

Having cancer screening rates below the pre-pandemic baseline is concerning, he said. “Overall, any time you potentially miss a cancer screening, it’s troubling. Screening is designed to catch cancer early when it’s ideally small, not late stage and more easily treatable so that you may have better results.”

Mast’s research team expected to see higher cancer screening rates in 2021, he said.

“There was an initial big drop in cancer screenings. We thought there might be some ‘catch-up’ in screenings after the initial drop. At some point when people felt better about going back to their doctors for their routine visits and healthcare organizations had their feet under them, we thought we might see a big spike in people who hadn’t had their routine screenings. But we haven’t seen a big increase in screening across the board, with people saying, ‘Now I can go back and catch up.’ We’ve seen screening come back close to baseline, but this implies that many screenings have simply not been carried out.”

The possibility of cancers going undetected due to reduced screening has implications for health care costs, Mast said. “In addition to the human cost of not detecting cancer early, when cancers are detected at an advanced stage, they are more extensive, more likely to spread to other parts of the body, and more difficult to treat, leading to It is intuitive how an advanced cancer could certainly require more intensive treatment, a longer duration of treatment and potentially more complications as part of the treatment.All of these things contribute to the increase in the costs of health care.

Encourage people to get screened for cancer

Healthcare professionals should seize opportunities to encourage their patients to undergo routine cancer screening, he said.

“There is no better way to connect with patients or encourage them to get tested. What works is everything. We need multi-channel communication. Every contact with patients becomes an opportunity not only to address their concern for you, but also to encourage them to see their health maintenance items such as cancer screenings.When there is contact with a health care provider, they should encourage patients to get their cancer screenings done.

A little encouragement can go a long way, Mast said.

“Quitting smoking is a good example. We find that when a trusted person on the patient care team, such as a doctor, brings up the topic of quitting smoking with the patient, it can be the incentive the patient needs to continue quitting smoking. The same goes for cancer screening. Health systems, hospitals, medical practices and, more broadly, home health workers and pharmacists can do a little bit to remind people to get tested. Overall, it helps move the needle and get more patients to get tested.”

Christopher Cheney is the Clinical Care Editor at HealthLeaders.

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