Educational Information

The Breast Cancer Screening Crisis Explained

The Breast Cancer Screening Crisis Explained

You might have heard about the breast cancer screening crisis. It sounds serious, and it is. Just what is this crisis all about? And how did we get here?

Many screenings, like mammograms, were canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Months later, when it was safe to return to in-person appointments, two big problems emerged:

  1. A huge flood of people returning to in-person screening appointments created a bottleneck
  2. Millions of people were financially impacted due to the pandemic, increasing the already large number of people who couldn’t afford a mammogram

Bottleneck of appointments

After months of quarantine and canceled appointments, thousands of women are trying to schedule their screening mammograms, but:

  • There aren’t enough timely appointments available
  • A nationwide shortage of mammographers due to quarantine restrictions and life changes related to family needs and job changes also impacts appointment availability

Many women are waiting months for a mammogram appointment.* We know that screenings save lives and should not be delayed, however, many proactive women are still having to wait.

We went from months without mammograms scheduled to months of non-stop mammograms scheduled. This increase in sudden screenings resulted in more people being diagnosed with breast cancer—and at later stages. A large majority of recent breast cancer diagnoses are from patients who didn’t have a mammogram last year.

More women can’t afford mammograms

Due to the tremendous impact of the pandemic, more women are unable to afford the $150 average cost of a mammogram. They are having to choose between a mammogram and groceries, for example—a choice no one should have to make.

The reality is women are skipping a potentially life-saving screening simply due to cost. The need for financial aid in our hospital partners across the country is at an all-time high.

Historically, we know that women in low-income populations and those who are uninsured have:

  • Lower breast cancer screening rates
  • Higher breast cancer mortality rates

This means underserved women aren’t getting screened for breast cancer or reporting when they have a lump, so they are being diagnosed when it’s too late.

Access to life-saving screenings needs to be available to everyone, regardless of cost or insurance status.

The breast cancer death rate grows for the first time in 15 years

Because of these screening problems, the projected death rate of breast cancer will increase by 10% in 2021 due to loss of screenings.**

This is the first time the death rate is projected to increase since 2007.

This is the screening crisis. But you can do something to help today.

What you can do:

  • Schedule (don’t cancel!) your mammogram or well-woman exam
  • Share that you’ve scheduled your mammogram and prioritized your health with others
  • Send this post to your loved ones
  • Share NBCF’s resources
  • Donate to provide free mammograms to uninsured women
  • Donate to support patient navigators who remove barriers to ensure women maintain a yearly schedule for mammograms

*If you are experiencing breast cancer symptoms (continuous and persistent pain, redness, lump, discharge, etc. from the breast), ask for a diagnostic mammogram. This is different than a screening mammogram and will not be delayed.
**The current count of breast cancer deaths in 2021 is 44,130. Long-term effects of delayed screenings are still being observed.

National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for you and your loved ones. Whether you need support, education, or help during treatment, we have a team dedicated to get you the help you deserve.

Publish Date: March 21, 2022

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