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Study: Drop in breast cancer screenings during pandemic could result in excessive deaths

Posted at 5:45 PM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 18:33:27-04

A recent study shows preventative screenings for breast cancer plummeted during the pandemic, but luckily they are showing a rebound. Now they're back to about 98% of pre-pandemic levels.

"I always go for my screenings," Sharon Harris said.

It was that persistence that allowed Harris' doctors to catch her stage 1 breast cancer three years ago.

"The way that I found it was through a mammogram. Self-exam would never have found it," Harris said.

Now she's a part of the YMCA's Livestrong program which supports cancer survivors and she's still making her routine screenings, even though she's cancer-free.

But instead of a doctor's office, she dropped by Advent Health's mobile mammography site at the Y in South Tampa.

"These mobile mammograms are awesome because it's quick," Harris said.

"We bring the bus to the patient," 30-year mammographer Beth Davis said.

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows screenings severely decreased during the pandemic. Researchers tallied the number of screenings done in Washington, metropolitan Chicago, New Hampshire, metropolitan Sacramento, San Francisco and Vermont.

In April 2020, only 317 screenings had been performed. That's 1% of the number of screenings in April 2019. The biggest reason for the decline is that doctor's offices closed down at the start of the pandemic until they had a proper COVID-19 protocol, which included Davis' mobile office.

"March through June. Three months solid," Davis said.

She said they went from performing about 40 screenings a day to zero.

Researchers say a 75% reduction in screenings could delay diagnoses for one-third of women who test positive for cancer. That could result in more than 5,000 excessive breast cancer deaths from now until 2030.

But Davis says things are finally picking up and the pandemic may have helped women actually prioritize their health.

"It's a scary time for all of us, but our health is the most important and getting our screening mammograms are extremely important," Davis said.

You don't have to make an appointment for mobile mammography, they take walk-ins. If you're 40-years-old or older, you don't need a referral from your doctor. The appointments take about 10 minutes. You can find out if it'll be near you by visiting

If you're a cancer survivor and want to sign up for the YMCA's Livestrong program, you can find more information here.