As we approach the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve learned to adapt, move on and live with a ‘new’ normal. While COVID-19 may not be going away completely anytime soon, we are slowly resuming routines, appointments, and activities for ourselves and for our families.
Many people paused travel, worked remotely, and importantly deferred routine health screenings. Now, 24 months later we are beginning to better understand and be able to measure the impact of delayed care.
Increase in Diagnosis of Later-Stage Breast Cancers
Breast cancer remains the second most common cause of cancer death for women, with an estimated 1 in 8 women diagnosed in their lifetime. Yet we know that early detection saves lives! Women diagnosed at stage 0 or stage 1 have a nearly 100% 5-year survival rate, demonstrating the importance of getting an annual screening mammogram.
The truth is, many women put off their screenings during COVID, whether for safety and social distancing or to prioritize other important needs for themselves and their families. This one to two-year delay is now surfacing as a broader health concern that is just now being characterized through clinical studies.
“A delay in screening, even a one-year delay, has resulted in a measurable increase in the diagnosis of later-stage breast cancers” – Dr. Leah Carlson, Breast Imaging Radiologist
- A study out of Kaiser Permanente in Northern California compared breast cancer statistics between March –May 2019 and March – May 2020. They found a significant increase (41%) in women presenting with symptomatic breast cancers or cancers that had progressed to later stages. Similarly, they also found an increase in more aggressive breast cancers which can be harder to treat.
- An ongoing study out of UC San Diego demonstrated a decrease in the detection of earlier stage 1 breast cancers over the last two years. Stage 1 cancers represented 64% of cancer diagnoses in 2019 which then decreased to 51% in 2020 and 42% in 2021 as of June that year. This decline corresponds with the increase in later stage breast cancers during the same time period – cancers that have been given time to advance.
- A British Medical Journal article looked at the impact of delayed treatment for known cancers as it pertained to COVID-related shutdowns that limited access to “elective” cancer surgeries. The study demonstrated that a delay in treatment of breast cancer by 8 weeks carried a 17% higher risk of death and a 12-week delay carried a 26% increased risk of death.
The conclusion from all this new clinical data?
Delays in routine health screenings – and particularly breast cancer screening – can have a longer-term impact on a patient’s health and longevity.
The Importance of Early Detection and Getting Back on Track with Screening
Bottom line – annual screening along with early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer saves lives. That’s why it’s important to get back on track with annual mammograms. Skipped last year’s exam? Just turned 40? Moved to the area? We’re here for you. We follow guideline recommendations from breast health experts supporting annual screening mammography for all women aged 40 and over. And we make it as easy as possible for our patients to schedule with us at any one of our 16 breast centers, many with next day, evening and Saturday appointments for your convenience. With safety measures still in place at our locations, we can offer you a fast, convenient, and safe environment to get the breast health care you need.
We know it’s a challenge to balance work/life demands and find time for you. It’s easy to put things off just a little longer. Nonetheless self-care is essential for the maintenance of both mental and physical health.
As we adjust to our new normal and the days begin to get busier and busier, we encourage you to find your reason for making breast health a priority. Our reason? It’s you.
- Chang S, Savitz A, Vuong B, et al. Characterization of breast cancer management during the COVID-19 pandemic in a large integrated healthcare delivery system: Stage at diagnosis and timing/modality of first treatment. Presented at: San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium; December 8-11, 2020. Abstract SS2-06. https://www.abstractsonline.com/pp8/#!/9223/presentation/704
- J Clin Oncol 39, 2021 (suppl 15; abstract 6501)
- Hanna, T et al. 2020. Mortality due to cancer treatment delay: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2020;371:m4087