IDAHO — October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, reminding everyone to book their screening and educate themselves on the impact breast cancer can have.
According to a recent JAMA Network article, it's estimated COVID-19 negatively influenced cancer screening. That's led to a deficit of nearly four million breast cancer screenings in the U.S.
"Breast cancer screening is important as 1 out of 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer during their lifetime," explains Regence Executive Medical Director Dr. Amy Khan. "Early detection is key. It can mean the difference in survival or having a more advanced cancer that requires more complex treatment."
The CDC reported in June 2021 that the total number of cancer screenings through its National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program declined by 87% for breast cancer and 84% for cervical cancer during April 2020 compared to previous five-year averages in the same month.
For some groups, already existing health inequities caused even more of a decline in screenings during the pandemic.
"Similar to the health disparities we observed with the COVID-19 pandemic, including a higher disease burden or limited access to the vaccine — at least initially, women in certain ethnic and minority groups may face barriers to obtaining needed care," Dr. Khan says. "This may include access and availability issues to mammograms, not knowing how or where to go to get screened, or being unable to get off of work during the clinic hours when these screenings are offered."
Dr. Khan adds a lack of insurance access or even other financial barriers can stop people from booking necessary screenings, but it's still important to find a way to get your mammogram done on a regular schedule. Most health plans, including those through Regence, cover in-network screening mammograms at no cost to the member.
"Mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer in your loved one. This is when most women yet don't have symptoms. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women between the ages of 50 and 74 years get screening mammograms every other year, and some women may choose to begin their screenings earlier between the ages of 40 and 49."
Dr. Khan explains getting screenings earlier than the recommended age depends on knowing your own risk factors. Those can include a family history of breast cancer and knowing if you have the gene mutation associated with breast cancer.
As we continue on through the COVID-19 pandemic, some people may have put off those screenings out of fear of catching the virus.
"The healthcare settings have adapted their protocols to ensure patient safety, and this includes screening patients upon arrival, mask use by the staff and other patients, assuring that staff and patients have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and in some cases, obtaining a COVID-19 test particularly prior to procedures and other kinds of therapies," Dr. Khan says.
Some practices have shifted to virtual consultations or sites of treatment from a hospital to an outpatient setting.
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