Early detection, more than anything, saves lives. Any decline in breast cancer screenings means more suffering and heartache for the women and families who battle this deadly disease, and tragically dwindling mammography rates means more of them will die.
Washington D.C. – Today, U.S Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) and Stephanie Bice (OK-05) and more than forty House Members joined in urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to address the pandemic-era decline in routine breast exam screenings and collaborate with Congress to develop solutions to reverse the troubling drop-off in these life-saving procedures.
Various public health, economic and advocacy groups have documented that the COVID-19 virus disproportionately affected women. Often, it forced women from the labor force or resulted in them taking on more family and childcare responsibilities as daycares and schools closed for in-person instruction. These responsibilities, along with other health and economic factors, have caused women to forego necessary routine preventative and diagnostic medical testing.
“Early detection, more than anything, saves lives. Any decline in breast cancer screenings means more suffering and heartache for the women and families who battle this deadly disease, and tragically dwindling mammography rates means more of them will die,” said Wasserman Schultz. “That is why I am calling on the CDC to pro-actively take action to reverse this drop-off and lessen the emotional, health, and financial toll it will take on millions of women.”
“It is critical that we address this alarming decline in breast cancer screenings,” said Bice. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to find solutions to end this life-threatening trend.”
The onset of the pandemic saw a drastic drop of more 80 percent in breast cancer screenings, with rates among women of color declining even more. When detected early, breast cancer survival rates are over 95 percent– but when detected in later stages, survival rates can be as low as 66 percent.
The Protecting Access to Lifesaving Screening (PALS) Act Coalition members worry that the 84% drop in breast cancer screening due to the pandemic will have a significant impact on early detection. In July, Carolyn Aldigé, Founder and CEO of the Prevent Cancer Foundation stated: "If diagnosed early, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 99%—that's why breast cancer screening is so critical."
“Knowing that screenings save lives, we can’t let down our guard and we urge the CDC to double its efforts collect screening data, improve education and awareness, and to find better ways to reduce barriers to breast cancer screening – all are critically important priorities to reverse the drop in screening rates,” Marilyn Yager, PALS Act Coalition Coordinator. “We thank Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Stephanie Bice for leading this time sensitive congressional message to the CDC.”
“Early cancer detection saves lives. Getting more American’s screened for cancer means earlier detection, better quality of life, and much better outcomes” said Kashyap Patel, MD, president of the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) and a practicing medical oncologist in Rock Hill, South Carolina. “Unfortunately, access to cancer screenings is not equitable for our nation’s minority or underserved populations, creating unacceptable disparities in cancer outcomes. We can, and must, do better.”
Among the House Members who signed on to today’s CDC letter were U.S. Reps.: Fred Upton (MI-6), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Bobby Rush (IL-1), Ron Kind (WI-3), Tom Cole (OK-4), Vern Buchanan (FL-16), Doug Lamborn (CO-5), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-3), Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Lois Frankel (FL-21), Derek Kilmer (WA-6), Grace Meng (NY-6), Markwayne Mullin (OK-2), Buddy Carter (GA-1), John Katko (NY-24), David Valadao (CA-21), Don Bacon (NE-2), Anthony G. Brown (MD-4), Liz Cheney (WY-At-Large), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), Al Lawson (FL-5), Tom O’Halleran (AZ-1), Kevin Hern (OK-1), Kelly Armstrong (ND- At-Large), Cindy Axne (IA-3), Jason Crow (CO-6), Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Elaine Luria (VA-2), Elissa Slotkin (MI-8), Abigail Spanberger (VA-7), Bryan Steil (WI-1), Haley Stevens (MI-11), Jeff Van Drew (NJ-2), Andrew Garbarino (NY-2), Kathy Manning (NC-6), Deborah K. Ross (NC-2), Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), Michelle Steel (CA-48), Beth Van Duyne (TX-24).
Read the entire letter below:
Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30333
We write to express our concern regarding the decline in routine breast cancer screenings throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially troublesome because early detection, preventive care, and treatment are critical to improving patient outcomes and the chances that they will survive the disease. As such, we urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide an update on and address this concerning trend, as well as work with members of Congress on immediate solutions.
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers for women in the United States. The average risk of a woman in the U.S. developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 13%, or a 1 in 8 chance she will develop breast cancer. It is concerning to see data from an October 2020 study from the Community Oncology Alliance, which examined the billing frequencies before and after the onset of the pandemic, showing a nearly 85% drop in breast cancer screenings. Furthermore, the same study found a corresponding decline in mastectomies over the same period, of up to 56% of pre-pandemic levels. Further, we are especially concerned about the lack of screenings available in underserved and minority communities, as data from the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program showed breast cancer screening declined by 84% among Hispanic women and 98% among American Indian/Alaskan Native women.
It is clear that the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women, forcing many of them to leave jobs to care for children and family members, and forego routine health screenings, such as those for breast cancer. Many women are faced with difficult choices, and factors like cost, access, and education must be addressed. In addition, preventative health screenings were reduced due to screening site closures, temporary suspension of breast cancer screening services, and health departments shifting resources to fight COVID-19, as well as families needing to stay home to tend to their own health and safety. These trends are reflective of what has been happening across the country and it is critical that we address this backlog in screenings and treatment moving forward to protect the millions of women across the country who are at risk of developing breast cancer.
Therefore, we write to inquire about the CDC’s actions to date in response to this concerning trend. Further, to reverse these trends, we urge the CDC to take the following actions: first, continue tracking and frequently provide data and updates on breast cancer screenings; second, focus on improving the number of breast cancer screenings through the Early Detection Program by continuing to encourage health care professionals to conduct routine cancer screenings; third, develop a plan to address barriers preventing women from accessing breast cancer screenings from their healthcare providers, and inform Congress of this plan; And fourth, work with Congress to determine whether legislation or additional funding are necessary to ensure not only that breast cancer screenings resume to pre-pandemic levels, but that health inequities preventing women from accessing these screenings are also addressed.
As the pandemic continues to impact communities and the healthcare system across the country, it is critical that routine breast cancer screenings are available to all women who need them to improve outcomes and save lives.