The effects of Covid-19 on screening were very high during the pandemic peak in spring 2020 with screening rates for most cancers down between 56% and 85%. As of May 2022, the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institute of Health, estimated that more than 9 million screening tests that normally would have been done didn’t happen.
These decreases disproportionately affected persons in lower socioeconomic groups who have traditionally been more challenged to access screening services.
There are five main categories of evidence-based cancer screening with proven benefits in age- and situation-appropriate individuals: breast, cervical, prostate, lung and colon cancer.
Recently, screening misses have declined. Researchers in June of this year recently published a report showing a 6% decline in breast cancer screening and 11% decline in cervical cancer screening. There was a 16% decrease in colonoscopy screening for colon cancer that was fortunately offset by a 7% increase in the use of stool testing for cancer.
Doctors and other healthcare personnel leading the “Return to Screening” program at 748 accredited cancer facilities aim to add 70,000 additional screening tests per month once the program is fully developed.
A report in Frontiers of Oncology this year suggested methods of reducing “Covid fear” as one strategy to overcome unfounded reluctance to attend screening service and to prioritize identifying and encouraging screening among persons at greater risk.
What can you as an employer do?
- Call on your primary care provider groups to assure they have a “catch-up” plan
- Ask those groups to provide you with de-identified population percentage metrics on adherence to age- and risk-appropriate screenings
- Assure your covered members are aware which screening tests are covered at 100%
- Recognize that early-stage cancers are more likely curable—and typically less costly— than late-stage cancers
Learn more about currently recommended (and first-dollar covered) cancer screening recommendation at the United States Preventive Services Task Force website.