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American Cancer Society Takes Steps To Bridge Cancer Screenings Gaps Caused By Pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic spread rapidly in the US in the year 2020, the number of people taking cancer screenings fell drastically. While most of the screening centers were temporarily closed, others were facing severe staff shortages. Moreover, people were scared of going to the hospital for non-emergency services as they were afraid of getting Covid-19.

During the normal times, around 9.4 million cancer screening tests take place in the United States, but that did not happen. According to doctors, these missed screenings would have led to the cancer being diagnosed at an advanced stage and lead to more people dying from cancer.

A new effort led by the American College of Surgeons in collaboration with the American Cancer Society plans to close the COVID-induced screening gap by helping cancer facilities across the country implement a wide range of strategies to improve the level of screenings to their pre-pandemic levels. This initiative, called the Return-to-Screening study, is one of the largest such efforts in the United States.

Heidi Nelson, MD, medical director of cancer programs at the American College of Surgeons, who is leading the study, said, "The cancer facilities participating in the study figured out what their screening [gaps were] and where they needed to put their efforts to close them."

The same kind of efforts have also been launched by individual institutions around the country, including some at community health centers, which are focused on screening for specific cancers or in specific population groups.

"What remains to be seen is the extent to which such initiatives will address meaningful gaps in screening, such as for cancer types in which screening continues to lag and underserved populations that have low screening rates," said Jennifer Croswell, MD, of NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences.

She added, "Many of these organizations have bounced back to their pre-pandemic levels of screening. That doesn't necessarily mean everything's great. There are pockets where people in underserved areas are doing a lot worse than others."

In order to bridge the gap, the American Cancer Society has taken initiatives like increasing public awareness of screening, including through social media campaigns and patient education.

Other strategies included focused on health care providers, using various means of reminding doctors to order screening tests for their patients and bolstering their knowledge of screening guidelines. A third strategy sought to increase access to screening, for example, by extending the hours when screening is available or providing financial support to those who do not have health insurance.

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