After months of pandemic-related impacts that reduced the number of breast cancer screenings in Minnesota, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and state health officials are reminding Minnesota women that it is important for all women 40 years and older to get back into the routine of the yearly mammograms that save lives.
Minnesota’s Sage Screening Program found that in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic there was a large decrease in breast and cervical cancer screening services. Between March and November 2020, Sage cancer screenings dropped significantly. Only around 30 percent of the women screened the previous year returned for another screening, with women of color seeing particularly significant decreases. Screening among American Indian women and white women decreased by 50 percent and 60 percent, respectively. Screening among African American women and Hispanic women decreased by much more (70 percent and 75 percent).
The same trend occurred nationally. In the U.S., mammograms dropped as much as 80% during the early months of the pandemic according to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (see Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Breast Cancer Mortality in the US: Estimates From Collaborative Simulation Modeling). Experts project that due to this drop in screening, nearly 2,500 additional deaths from breast cancer will occur by 2030.
“We know it has been tough time to keep up on screenings, and that is why we want to encourage women who might need some resources or help getting an appointment to use the Sage Program to connect with a clinic that can provide a routine mammogram,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm.
As of March 2021, Sage is back to screening 600 or more woman a month, a pace more in line with pre-pandemic screening numbers. Melanie Peterson-Hickey, manager of MDH Sage programs, is encouraged to see this rebound in screening but is concerned that Sage is still observing screening delays in the American Indian and African American communities.
“Underserved populations continue to experience disproportionate negative effects as a result of delays in screening and early detection of cancer,” said Peterson-Hickey. “Sage is working closely with partners to reach all Minnesota women including those that experience disparities in screening, diagnosis and care, particularly those in American Indian and African American communities. We are committed to connecting those in need to free and low-cost screenings in hopes that we can prevent late diagnosis and care.”
To help with catching up, MDH is encouraging women to get back on track with routine mammograms, which are the most reliable way to detect breast cancer early when it is the easiest to treat. Not scheduling a mammogram can allow breast cancers to grow, becoming less treatable with time, and more deadly.
Because health outcomes for breast cancer are much more promising when the cancer is diagnosed and treated early, Sen. Klobuchar recently joined MDH to make a Mammograms Save Lives public service announcement. Sen. Klobuchar has talked publicly about her own recent breast cancer diagnosis. She had delayed getting a routine mammogram because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sen. Klobuchar revealed that she was diagnosed with stage 1A breast cancer and praised her team of Minnesota doctors and nurses for a successful treatment of her breast cancer.
“I want to call attention to the fact that many people have been delaying physicals and routine exams because of the pandemic. I know that because I delayed mine,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “It’s easy to put off health screenings just like I did, but I hope my experience is a reminder for everyone of the value of routine health check-ups, exams and follow through.”
MDH’s Sage Screening Program partners with more than 470 clinics statewide to offer free mammograms and Pap tests to Minnesota’s women. Call 1-888-643-2584 or visit Sage Cancer Screenings to learn more. It is part of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
For more information about breast cancer in Minnesota, visit Minnesota Cancer Reporting Systems Cancer Statistics and Reports.