PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — National estimates project the pandemic took a toll on breast cancer screenings, leading to an estimated deficit of 3.9 million exams among adults nationwide.
A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association revealed a reduction in the total number of mammograms suggested “a substantial deficit of missed breast cancer screening, which may worsen preexisting disparities.”
Dr. Martha Mainiero, director of Breast Imaging at the Anne C. Pappas Center for Breast Imaging at Rhode Island Hospital, tells 12 News there was about a 40% decrease in the rate of mammography screening during the recovery from the pandemic.
She believes this was, in part, due to a pause in screenings for a short period of time in the earlier days of the pandemic.
“We’re now back up to those good 100% levels of what we expect to see, but we did go down to 60% for a while there,” Mainiero said.
Mainiero said while screening numbers are back up, there are still concerns.
“Unfortunately, for some of those women who missed their screening, we have seen a delay in the diagnosis of breast cancer, in some cases,” Mainiero said. “I don’t think we know for sure the ultimate cost of life. I don’t think we’ll know for a number of years, when people look back on the pandemic and when we had to pause screening.”
Mainiero said if doctors can detect and diagnose breast cancer earlier, it opens a window for more treatment options and an improved mortality rate.
Dr. Stephanie Graff, director of Breast Oncology at the Lifespan Cancer Institute, said thanks to research volunteers participating in clinical trials, there have been major advancements in treatment.
“Even 10 years ago, a lot of patients needed radical surgery, radiation was delivered over six to seven weeks, we didn’t have some of the advanced reconstruction techniques, and almost everyone got chemotherapy,” Graff said.
“Fast forward, we’re able to give radiation often over one week, we have surgical techniques like invisible scar surgery where surgeons are like wizards that can do amazing things, and often I’m able to do testing that tells me I’m safely able to skip chemotherapy for patients,” she continued.
Some of Lifespan’s hospitals will be illuminated in pink for the remainder of October as a way to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The R.I. State House is also lit up in pink.