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Breast imaging rates remain significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | June 17, 2022
Women's Health
Breast imaging, including mammogram screenings, is still below pre-pandemic levels.
Mammogram screenings, along with other forms of breast care, remain under pre-pandemic levels.

Since the peak of COVID, breast imaging services, including mammogram screenings, have only rebounded to 85.3% of what they were, raising concerns that screening will continue to be under-utilized, especially among asymptomatic women. Additionally, cancer diagnoses dropped by nearly 50% during the peak and along with diagnostic mammograms and breast biopsies recovered to above 90%, according to a study by the American College of Radiology National Mammography Database (NMD) Committee and the Harvey L. Heiman Health Policy Institute.

The study is the broadest and largest analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on U.S. breast cancer screening volumes, according to Dr. Stamatia Destounis, chair of the ACR Breast Imaging Commission. “We, as radiologists, need to continue to inform and educate our healthcare providers and our patients of the safety of our facilities even in the midst of COVID and the importance of breast cancer screening, in order to reduce the number of advanced cancers in the next few years that we may encounter if screening does not rebound completely," she told HCB News.

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The authors looked at anonymized data from over five million mammogram screenings, one million diagnostic mammograms, 200,000 biopsies and nearly 70,000 cancer diagnoses from 377 facilities. During the peak, mammogram screenings dropped by 63.7%; diagnostic mammograms, 42.1%; breast biopsies, 52.7%; and cancer diagnoses, 51.3%. They rebounded to 85.3%, 97.8%, 91.5% and 92%, respectively, during the recovery period.

Older and Asian women were disparately affected, with screenings for those, aged 80 and above, rebounding to 76.1%. At the peak, screenings, diagnostic mammograms and cancer diagnoses dropped the most among Asian women, who also had the smallest rebound in screenings and diagnoses. "Our hope is that with increased outreach efforts targeting patients that are of mammography age — specifically among minority groups and underserved populations — we will increase utilization of screening mammography in asymptomatic individuals to pre-COVID numbers,” said Destounis.

The findings were published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR).

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