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, about 100,000 women had screening mammograms each day in the United States. In the spring, nearly all mammogram centers shut down for three months, and even though they began opening again in the summer, it was not until October that nearly all were operating normally. That may change with the surge of new coronavirus infections, but for now, women who want mammograms can get them.
Clinics had to slow the rate at which they do mammograms because of Covid-19 precaution requirements, including physical distancing and cleaning of equipment between exams. But they are making up for the delays by keeping longer hours and opening on weekends.
The situation may be different for women who have worrisome findings, like a lump or a suspicious finding on a mammogram. The wait for diagnostic imaging and biopsies can be long, stretching out for weeks or months, said Dr. Christoph Lee, a professor of radiology and health services researcher at the University of Washington.
Doctors expect that many women who missed their mammograms last spring will not return now that they can have the screening test again, some because they fell out of the habit but others because of the pandemic’s social and economic effects. Women may have to stay home to care for children or may have lost jobs and health insurance.
The breast cancer consortium should have the first results of the effects of the screening shutdown on patient outcomes in six months, Dr. Lee said.
“We’ve never been able to argue to stop screening for a period, because the standard of care is regular screening,” Dr. Lee said. “We are trying to see if less screening leads to more or to less harm.”