Cancer screenings and other medical care declined during COVID pandemic, study finds

Cancer screenings and other preventative care declined in Massachusetts in the first year of the COVID pandemic, raising concerns that cancers and other conditions will go undetected until they are more advanced and more difficult to treat.

An analysis by nonprofit group Massachusetts Health Quality Partners found that tests such as colonoscopies and mammograms fell in 2020 compared to 2018. The group said 35,000 fewer people were screened for breast cancer. colon, 4,500 fewer women had been screened for breast cancer and 11,700 fewer. women were screened for cervical cancer.

Additionally, thousands of people with diabetes have also missed blood tests and eye exams that can help control their chronic condition.

Massachusetts Health Quality Partners analyzed data from hundreds of thousands of people in the state covered by five commercial health plans. The data does not reflect low-income residents with Medicaid coverage or seniors under Medicare, but it does provide a comprehensive look at the impact of the early part of the pandemic on preventive care.

Barbra Rabson, president of Massachusetts Health Quality Partners, called the numbers alarming and said they confirmed what health care providers already feared.

“Cancer screenings are down,” she said. “The number of people getting tested is really significantly lower than it should be, so we want to draw attention to that.”

The decline in preventive care began early in the pandemic when clinics and hospitals halted most non-emergency medical care so they could respond to COVID. But when regular medical visits resumed, many patients were reluctant to return for fear of COVID. Doctors say they are concerned that some patients are only now returning to their appointments – after more than two years of the pandemic.

Dr Julita Mir is Chief Medical Officer of Community Care Cooperative, a group of community health centres, and treats patients at DotHouse Health in Dorchester. She saw an elderly patient last week who had avoided the doctor’s office for two and a half years and finally came back with a “laundry list” of things he needed, she said.

Mir said doctors are trying to keep up with demand from patients who now need care, but staff shortages are making that more difficult. She said patients who have missed their screenings should be able to find appointments now – although they may have to wait longer or travel farther than they want.

“We will probably take the rest of this year, COVID permitting, to catch up on this backlog,” she said. “But it’s hard to predict.”

Dr Barbara Spivak, internist at the head of the Mount Auburn Cambridge Independent Practice Association, said cancer screenings are essential to identify problems at an early stage, such as polyps which can be removed before the cancer sets in. developed.

“The goal is to prevent,” she said.

Spivak said she’s also concerned that people with diabetes and high blood pressure might get sicker because they missed their regular appointments.

“It has other consequences for their kidneys, vascular disease. For diabetics, it could affect their eyes,” she said.

“It’s not just cancer screening that we’re concerned about, it’s making sure people with chronic conditions are followed up appropriately,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Community Care Cooperative. We regret the error.