Study Finds the COVID-19 Pandemic Created Significant Disruptions in Cancer Screenings at Federally Qualified Health Centers

by | Jul 22, 2021 | Science & News

A new study has found that the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to significant disruptions in breast, colorectal, and cervical cancer screenings at federally qualified health systems spanning 15 states across the United States. The postponed screenings have created backlogs that systems will need to address as health facilities reopen for preventive care, said the authors. The study was published by Fisher-Borne et al in the Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Study Findings

Data were collected from August to September 2020. Of the 22 systems in the study, 11 (50%) reported stopping cancer screening completely for the cancer type specified in their application since the start of COVID-19 disruptions. One center reported never stopping screening entirely for their specified cancer types. Over half of all systems reported enforced screening service disruptions/cancellations as a result of state or local COVID-19 restrictions.

The study shows that when clinics were asked about service disruption, there was not one unified picture—even different clinics located within the same state described different times of experiencing peaks in disruption of screening. Half of the systems were able to maintain home-based stool sampling testing for colorectal cancer without any disruptions. The study also found that 100% of the clinics switched to telehealth visits, and 100% implemented structural changes in the office, including waiting room protocols.

In fall 2020, the American Cancer Society and the National Football League joined forces on Cancer Screening During COVID-19, a 17-month intervention with 22 federally qualified health centers across the United States aimed at reducing cancer mortality disparities caused by the pandemic. The project aims to help federally qualified health systems resume cancer prevention services and catch up on missed cancer screenings to mitigate the impact of disruptions in care related to COVID-19 on cancer morbidity and mortality.

“Without purposeful intervention, pandemic-related disruptions in preventive services may widen existing cancer disparities,” the authors wrote. “That is why partnerships like our COVID recovery screening project are critical, and the American Cancer Society is honored to work with federally qualified health systems to get back on track with screening.”

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