Considerations for Breast Cancer Screening During the COVID-19 Pandemic

October 6th 2020

Providers can discuss the risks and benefits of being screened now or at a later date, including the consideration of the patient’s personal and family history, other risk factors, and timing of the last screening test

Many elective medical screenings, including cancer screenings, were put on hold at the start of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic to prioritize urgent needs and reduce the risk of spreading the virus in health care settings.

Many health care facilities are offering elective procedures again as more states re-open businesses and ease restrictions. When it comes down to restarting cancer screening, this procedure requires careful consideration of the risks and benefits of screening, along with ensuring safety for both patients and health care personnel.

The decisions on cancer screening will depend on certain factors and varies between each person and community, according to the American Cancer Society.

Patients should talk to their health care team about when to reschedule a postponed or cancelled screening appointment. Further, providers can discuss the risks and benefits of being screened now or at a later date, including the consideration of the patient’s personal and family history, other risk factors, and timing of the last screening test.

"Finding breast cancer early and getting high-quality cancer treatment are the most important strategies to prevent deaths from breast cancer. Getting regular screening tests is a critically important part of finding breast cancer early," said Laura Makaroff, MD, senior vice president of Prevention and Early Detection for the American Cancer Society, in a prepared statement.

Makaroff added that breast cancer screening disparities are already evident and will likely increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic if not given focused attention.

“Efforts to promote breast cancer screening and overcome barriers for populations with low screening prevalence must be at the forefront of our focus," Makaroff said.

Although many women get an annual mammogram for breast cancer screening, leading organizations have issued screening guidelines that recommend women at average risk aged 55 years and older can be screened every 2 years. Similarly, women who are aged 55 years and older who had a normal mammogram within the last year could choose to have their next mammogram up to 24 months after your last one, according to the American Cancer Society.

The CDC has recommendations for health care facilities to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission during screening, such as:

  • Screening centers being available to answer patient questions via phone or web portal before or after the screening procedure
  • Patients being prescreened for COVID-19-related symptoms before screening appointments
  • Limitations on visitors other than patients and/or their caregivers into the screening facility
  • All patients and staff should wear a face covering or face mask, with frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer by staff, patients, and visitors

REFERENCE

Breast cancer screening is still important during the COVID-19 pandemic. American Cancer Society. http://pressroom.cancer.org/2020-09-30-Breast-Cancer-Screening-is-Still-Important-During-the-COVID-19-Pandemic. Published September 30, 2020. Accessed September 30, 2020.

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