Cancer screenings rebounded after initial pandemic dip

Mammograms and colonoscopies are being performed once more after taking a precipitous fall during the early days of the pandemic.

Patients are returning to their physicians for cancer screenings after avoiding office visits during the dark earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a research report published in Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers looked at weekly medical claims from commercially insured Americans and found that the median weekly rate of mammogram screenings for breast cancer dropped 96 percent in April 2020. Before the declaration of the pandemic as a national emergency on March 13, 2020, the median weekly rate of mammogram screenings was 87.8 women per 10,000 beneficiaries. In April, when much of the country was shut down by shelter-in-place orders, that number dropped to 6.9 women per 10,000 beneficiaries.

By July, that number was still below pre-pandemic levels, but had rebounded tp 88.2 screenings per 10,000 beneficiaries, the report says,

During the same period colonoscopy screenings dropped by 95 percent from 15.1 screenings per 10,000 beneficiaries to 0.9 per 10,000. By the end of July that number had rebounded a bit to 12.6 per 10,000 beneficiaries, the report says.

The report also looked at a demographic data for the screenings and found a sharper decline in the highest-income quartile counties compared to the lowest-quartile counties studied. There were not any significant demographic differences when it came to mammograms, according to the report.

The authors noted that the rebound in July coincided with a large spike in COVID-19 cases during the summer months which suggests that healthcare systems were able to reconfigure resources and protocols quickly.

“Early in the pandemic, experts expressed concerns about the potential for a large drop-off in cancer screenings, confirmed by these findings,” the report says. “However, health systems also rapidly responded with protocols and strategies to reopen in an appropriate manner, and this study is the first to document the success of this effort.”