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Breast Cancer Screening Decreased During Pandemic

Published in Breast Care, Cancer Care, Women's Services, For the Health of It Author: Nicole Mercer-Bolton,MD

For women, breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second leading cause of death. At least 12% of U.S. women will be affected by breast cancer during their lifetimes.

Radiologists continue to be strong advocates for the importance of breast cancer screening — especially mammography. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients have postponed or skipped screening mammograms. A recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes a sharp decline — 87% — in breast cancer screening in April 2020 compared to previous years. Prolonged delays in screening due to the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to delayed diagnoses, worse outcomes and increased disparities among women.

According to a study published Aug. 26 in Cancer, a journal of the American Cancer Society, there was a significant drop in breast cancer screening of older low-income women during the pandemic. The analysis of data from 32 community health centers that serve low-income people found that breast cancer screening for 50- to 74-year-old women dropped 8% between July 2019 and July 2020.

Between July 2018 and July 2019, there was an 18% increase in screenings. If the 2018 to 2019 trend had continued through 2020, about 63% of women would have been screened for breast cancer in 2020 instead of the nearly 50% of women who actually were.

These populations have long-standing barriers to accessing care, lower breast screening rates, higher breast cancer and death rates, and are especially vulnerable to health care disruptions. The researchers noted that clinics in the study were part of an American Cancer Society grant to improve breast cancer screening rates.

Breast Cancer Risks

  • One in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lives. The risk for men is 1 in 833.
  • There is a 22 times higher risk for women who have had a mother, sister or daughter diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • In the past five years, 7.8 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer worldwide.
  • In 2020, breast cancer caused 685,000 deaths across the globe.

Survival Rates

  • The five-year survival rate for women with invasive breast cancer is 90%.
  • The 10-year survival rate for women with invasive breast cancer is 83%.
  • If an annual mortality reduction of 2.5% occurs worldwide in the next 20 years, a projected 2.5 million cancer deaths will be avoided.


  • Only 39% of uninsured women ages 50-69 were screened for breast cancer in the last two years compared to 75% of insured women.
  • A 25% reduction in breast cancer death rates is achieved by screening mammography for women ages 50-69.

Learn more about breast cancer screening from The U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Sources: World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute