Important Cancer Screenings Still on the Decline

By: Cyndy Patton 

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a continued decline in the number of Americans who should – but are not – getting screened for various cancers. A recent study from the American Cancer Society, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology indicates that cancer screenings remain below pre-pandemic levels for the second consecutive year.  

The study compared the number of age-eligible women and men who were screened for breast, cervical, prostate and colorectal cancers in 2019 against those who were screened in 2020 and then in 2021.  

Dr. Robert Ferris

Between 2019 and 2021, past-year screening in the United Stated decreased from: 

  • 59.9% to 57.1% for breast cancer 
  • 45.3% to 39% for cervical cancer 
  • 39.5% to 36.3% for prostate cancer  

Interestingly, while there was a decline in the number of colonoscopies for colorectal cancer the screening statistics were determined to be steady or unchanged when the study factored in the increase in the number of at-home stool-testing kits.  

“There are cancers, including colorectal cancer, that have very good screening tools, and we need to remind people to take advantage of the advances in science and clinical medicine,” said Dr. Robert Ferris, director of UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. “Colonoscopy is still the gold standard for detecting colorectal cancer but testing annually with an at-home test can also be effective and is better than not screening at all.” 

Ferris continued, “We all know by now that detecting cancer early provides the best chance of survival and even a cure, yet we find that many people do not take advantage of the early screening tests and are surprised when a cancer is diagnosed at a later stage when it didn’t have to be that way.”   

He suspects there are a number of reasons that cancer screenings have declined including pandemic-fueled career changes that have reduced benefits or insurance coverage. He also believes that doctor visits, medical checkups and annual screenings are routine habits that were disrupted by the pandemic.   

“Once you get out of the habit it’s harder to return to the routine,” said Ferris. “We are strongly encouraging our patients to return to scheduling annual cancer screenings. We don’t want people to wait until there are signs or symptoms for those cancers where screenings have proven to be the best chance for a cure.” 

Ferris pointed out that early detection of cancer can also mean improved survivorship and quality of life since early detection will mean fewer treatments including chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgical interventions which can have lasting side effects.  

For more information and to schedule cancer screenings visit Cancer Screening & Early Detection | UPMC Hillman Cancer Center 

For information on our community support services for cancer screening and support visit Cancer Community & Support Resources | UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.