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Broad drop-off in cancer screenings during pandemic

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Reuters Health - 25/03/2022 - Many U.S. facilities saw declines in screening rates for colorectal, cervical, breast and lung cancers during the pandemic, a new study notes.

An analysis of data from 748 accredited cancer programs enrolled in an American Cancer Society study from April to June of last year revealed that more than 80% saw drops in screening for colorectal cancer, nearly 70% for cervical cancer, more than 50% for breast cancer and more than 44% for lung cancer, researchers report in Cancer.

"The take-home message for healthcare professionals is to know that monthly screening rates were significantly compromised during the pandemic, including several months into the pandemic," said Dr. Heidi Nelson, medical director of cancer programs of the American College of Surgeons.

"Now is the time to make up for missed screening. We hope this article will encourage all medical groups and healthcare professionals to examine their own screening programs to see how much 'catch-up' they might need to do to ensure that people will not show up in the coming years with advanced cancers," she told Reuters Health by email.

"We were a bit surprised that several months into the pandemic monthly screening rates had not recovered as much as we expected, probably due to ongoing surges of Covid," Dr. Nelson added. "We were also surprised, and grateful that 748 accredited Commission on Cancer (CoC) and National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC) signed up in just eight weeks to participate in this national effort to reverse the downward trends in screening."

Dr. Nelson and her colleagues sent out invitations to all 1,456 CoC-accredited facilities and 582 NAPBC-accredited facilities, which treat nearly 70% of recently diagnosed U.S. patients with cancer annually.

The participating institutions were given the American College of Surgeons Cancer Programs' Return-to-Screening Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) to help them improve the rates of screening for the various cancers. It's too early to know yet how well the PDSA has helped bring rates back up, the authors note.

The majority of facilities reported monthly screening deficits (colorectal cancer, 80.6%; cervical cancer, 69.0%; breast cancer, 55.3%; lung cancer, 44.6%). Overall, the researchers found that the median relative percent change in monthly test volumes were -17.7% for colorectal cancer, -6.8% for cervical cancer, -1.6% for breast cancer and 1.2% for lung cancer. They did not see any geographic differences.

"The fact that so many of our accredited CoC and NAPBC programs signed up right away represented a recognition that (this) is a serious problem," Dr. Nelson said. "These programs recognized the magnitude of the problem and were eager to address it using their existing cancer infrastructure. We are optimistic this news will help medical groups turn their attention to this problem now that we have some relief from Covid surges."

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3NipmGi Cancer, online March 21, 2022.

By Linda Carroll

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