Don't Delay Non-COVID Care – Including Screening Mammography!

Image of Bonnie Joe, MD, chief of breast imaging at UCSF Radiology

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, hospitals and health systems cancelled or delayed elective procedures, including screening mammograms. The reason behind this was twofold. First, to protect people from being infected with SARS-CoV-2 and second, to make sure they had proper resources allocated to treat people infected with the virus. However, hospitals, healthcare systems and providers soon adopted strict safety policies and procedures to risk exposure making it safe for patients to come back for elective procedures and screening mammograms.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the perfect time to bring attention to the sharp declines in breast cancer screening due to COVID-19, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Prolonged delays in screening related to the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to delayed diagnoses, poor health consequences, and an increase in cancer disparities among women already experiencing health inequities," the report says.

Over the summer, Jessica Hayward, MD, associate professor of clinical radiology in the Breast Imaging section, was part of a team that evaluated the association of COVID-19 and breast screening at an urban integrated health system's safety-net hospital in the Bay Area between September 1, 2019, and January 31, 2021 plotted against the 2019 baseline. Deidentified data found persistent low breast screening volumes and an absolute decrease in the proportion of completed mammograms among Latinx and Black women. Research can be accessed on JAMA Network Open.  

"Right now, it's important to remember that a drop in breast cancer screening may lead to an increase in deaths from breast cancer," says Bonnie Joe, MD, PhD, chief of Breast Imaging at UCSF Radiology. "Mammography provides early detection of breast cancer, and mammography saves lives."

In their published article, Dr. Hayward and authors call for health systems to leverage COVID-19–related community outreach and engagement to develop concerted efforts promoting preventive care to ensure preexisting disparities do not worsen among communities with higher risk. Here at UCSF, we remind patients that it is safe to get a mammogram during the COVID-19 pandemic as long as you are not feeling sick or have COVID-19 symptoms.

At UCSF Radiology, we have protocols in place to keep all patient interactions safe. Visit our Radiology Resources for Coronavirus (COVID-19) page for more information. Also, look at UCSF Health's COVID-19 information for patients and visitors page for additional information.

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