COA Launches Effort to Get Cancer Screenings Back on Track

April 9, 2021
Mary Caffrey

Research published in November found an 85% drop in breast cancer screening and a 75% drop in colon cancer screening. Since that time, screening rates have improved somewhat.

Following a significant drop in cancer screenings as the pandemic unfolded last year, the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) today announced a partnership to promote cancer screening and catch cancer in its early stages.

The effort, “Time to Screen,” will bring COA together with CancerCare, a nonprofit that serves independent oncology practices and offers patients help with support services meeting financial challenges. The 2 groups will work to connect Americans with screening resources, which can be found at www.TimeToScreen.org. Those who need screening can also call 1-855-53-SCREEN (1-855-537-2733) for information.

“COVID-19 has caused many people to delay recommended cancer screenings, which are now at dangerously low levels. ‘Time to Screen’ is a reminder that everyone can now do something essential for their health,” Kashyap Patel, MD, president of COA and CEO of Carolina Blood and Cancer Care in Rock Hill, South Carolina, said in a statement.

“It’s safer to get screened now, rather than delaying getting checked for cancer, because early detection catches cancer when it’s most treatable. It may even save your life,” he said.

Research published in November in JCO Clinical Informatics, led by authors from Avalere Health and COA leadership, found drops in screenings that included an 85% drop in breast cancer screening and a 75% decline in colon cancer screening. Since that time, screening rates have improved somewhat, but average rates for the 4 major cancer types are still down 25% across the country.

This research aligns with reports from the National Cancer Institute, whose Director Norman “Ned” Sharpless, MD, said that cancer diagnoses have fallen 50% during the pandemic, with lack of screening being a major reason. It’s not that there is less cancer—it’s not just being diagnosed and treated, and oncologists worry about losing gains made against cancer for years to come.

According to COA, community oncologists report they are seeing the fallout from last year’s delayed or canceled screenings, as cancers diagnosed at later stages demand more complex treatments, resulting in higher morbidity or death. Even if cancer can be successfully treated, the regimens will cost more, which will have an impact on health care costs, especially for Medicare, experts predict.

The “Time to Screen” campaign provides assistance and educational resources, including the toll-free hotline and website featuring information on screenings for breast, colorectal, cervical, prostate, lung, and skin (melanoma) cancer.

CDC recommendations call for routine screenings for certain cancer types once people reach age 40, and those with a family history of cancer should follow specific recommendations that apply in their situations to offer the best opportunity to detect cancer at its earliest, most treatable stages.

Screening facilities are able to screen patients safely, following guidelines for COVID-19 testing, requiring face covering and social distancing, and limiting the number of people in the facility at any one time.

“Early detection of cancers through regular screenings saves lives. ‘Time to Screen’ connects Americans with local screening options and support to make appointments,” said Patricia J. Goldsmith, CEO of CancerCare. “Through this campaign we will not only be raising awareness of the importance of getting cancer screenings back on track, but also providing important support services to help overcome any barriers that individuals need to access their cancer screenings.”

The campaign will raise public awareness by engaging with local oncology practices, other medical professionals, employers, and health care purchasers. It will also involve multimedia advertising, television and radio interviews, and other strategies. Among those providing support are Bristol Myers Squibb, Genentech, Amgen, Heron Therapeutics, Incyte, Janssen, Pharmacyclics, Daiichi Sankyo Inc, Eisai Inc, EMD Serono, Merck, Pfizer, and Takeda.