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Amid pandemic, scientists reassess routine medical care

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, approximately 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 started opening again in the summer, it was not until October that almost all were functioning normally. That may change with the surge in new coronavirus infections, but for now, women who want mammograms can get them.

Clinics have had to slow the frequency of mammograms due to Covid-19 precautionary requirements, including physical distance 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 who have worrying results, such as a lump or a suspicious finding on a mammogram. The wait for diagnostic imaging and biopsies can be long, ranging from weeks to months, said Dr. Christoph Lee, professor of radiology and health services researcher at the University of Washington.

Doctors expect many women who missed their mammograms last spring will not come back now that they can get tested again, some because they’ve given up the habit, but others due to the social and economic effects of the pandemic. Women may have to stay at home to care for children or may have lost their jobs and health insurance.

The breast cancer consortium is expected to have the first results of the effects of stopping screening on patient outcomes in six months, Dr Lee said.

“We have never been able to stop screening for a while because the standard of care is regular screening,” said Dr Lee. “We’re trying to see if less screening results in more or less damage.”