USA Today: Lawmakers pen letter to CDC to address decline in breast cancer screenings due to COVID

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Washington, November 12, 2021 | comments
Dozens of bipartisan House lawmakers sent a letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday asking the agency to address the decline in routine breast cancer screenings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to work with Congress to develop solutions to reverse the decrease.
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WASHINGTON – A group of nearly 40 bipartisan House lawmakers sent a letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday asking the agency to address the decline in routine breast cancer screenings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to work with Congress to develop solutions to reverse the decrease.

Cancer screenings have significantly decreased since the start of the pandemic due to lack of access, fear of contracting COVID-19, and cancellations of elective procedures. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) predicts that over the next 10 years, nearly 10,000 breast and colorectal cancer deaths will be due to "pandemic-related delays in cancer screening and treatment.” 

"We write to inquire about the CDC’s actions to date in response to this concerning trend,"  the lawmakers penned to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, per a copy obtained by USA TODAY. They want the agency to frequently provide data on breast cancer screenings, improve the number of screenings through the Early Detection Program by encouraging health care professionals to conduct them, develop a plan they can share with Congress to address the barriers preventing women from accessing these screenings, and to work with lawmakers to determine whether further legislation or funding is necessary to ensure screenings resume to pre-pandemic leve“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 Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who led in writing the letter. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago and underwent a double mastectomy. 

"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," the lawmakers wrote. "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."

Though survival rates vary for different cancers, generally, the later cancer is diagnosed, the more difficult it is to treat.

Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., the lead Republican on the letter, said “It is critical that we address this alarming decline in breast cancer screenings."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who recently was diagnosed with breast cancer herself, introduced legislation that would aim to increase the number of screenings and access to preventive care measures. The Preventive Care Awareness Act would help people get appointments needed to detect cancer early by promoting health care screenings and routine examinations and physicals. 

The bill would aim to increase the screenings derailed by the pandemic, one of which was her own; her diagnosis came after a routine mammogram she had delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.   

Friday's letter also cites data from the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program that found highlights breast cancer screenings declined in communities of color: down84% among Hispanic women and 98% among American Indian/Alaskan Native women.

"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," the letter from the lawmakers continues.

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