Amid Pandemic, Scientists Reassess Routine Medical Care

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Now the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium, a federally funded research group, is prospectively collecting data during the pandemic from more than 800,000 women and nearly 100 mammography centers across the country.

Millions of women missed their regular mammograms in the first wave of the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, around 100,000 women had screening mammograms every day in the United States. In the spring, almost all mammography centers closed for three months, and although they reopened in the summer, almost all of them did not work normally until October. That may change with the rise in new coronavirus infections, but for now, women who want mammograms can get them.

Clinics have had to slow the speed at which they perform mammograms due to precautions for Covid-19, including physical removal and cleaning of equipment between exams. But they make up for the delays by keeping longer hours and opening on weekends.

The situation may be different for women with worrying findings, such as a lump or a suspicious finding on a mammogram. The wait for diagnostic imaging and biopsies can be long, stretching for weeks or months, said Dr. Christoph Lee, Professor of Radiology and Health Research at the University of Washington.

Doctors expect many women who missed their mammograms last spring will not return because they can do the screening test again, some because they fell out of the habit, others because of the social and economic impact of the pandemic. Women may have to stay home to look after children, or they may have lost their jobs and health insurance.

The breast cancer consortium should have the first results of the screening shutdown’s impact on patient outcomes in six months, said Dr. Lee.

“We have never been able to argue to stop screening for a period of time because the standard of care is regular screening,” said Dr. Lee. “We’re trying to find out whether less screening leads to more or less harm.”

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