Doctors concerned after 1000s of missed mammograms due to COVID

The coronavirus consumed much of daily life in March for the Houston region, including things that are necessary but not constant, such as cancer screenings.

An IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science report published in April shows that a reduction of cancer screenings in the three months leading up to June 5 may have resulted in 36,000 delayed breast cancer diagnoses in the U.S.

However, the impacts of coronavirus on mammograms depended on the severity of the spread of cases in that region, according to studies presented on July 22 at the American Association of Cancer Research Virtual Meeting: COVID-19 and Cancer.

Later detection could have an impact on the death rate, said Jessica Jones, assistant professor of oncology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and an attending physician at Memorial Hermann Cancer Center.

“Research has shown that with medication, MRIs and mammograms we can effectively reduce breast cancer risks by 50 percent and curative rate, if we catch it early, is at 98 percent,” Jones said. “Every woman can get a personalized risk assessment predicting her chance of breast cancer.”

Closing the gap

In the Houston region, hospital systems and breast cancer prevention nonprofits are trying to get screenings back on track.

Memorial Hermann recently rolled out its Breast Cancer Prevention Program at both the Texas Medical Center and UT Physicians Multispecialty Clinic-Bayshore.

Meanwhile, nonprofits like Project Mammogram and The Rose are raising funds through online campaigns to provide free mammograms for low income people.

The Breast Cancer Prevention Program specializes in treating women who have higher risks of breast cancer with medication and additional screening. The program has been in the works for one year due to women getting less and less breast cancer screenings, Jones said. Although it’s currently only at two locations, the program is available for patients of any Memorial Hermann hospital in the Houston area.

“We have missed 36,000 (cases) of breast cancer already so this breast cancer awareness month is more important than ever,” Jones said.

Returning to the office

Ashmitha Srinivasan, chair of the breast division with Synergy Radiology Associates, said in March they were asking mammogram seekers to stay home for two reasons: they needed to make sure that they had enough personal protective equipment for medical staff and they wanted to minimize the exposure of the coronavirus to the community.

Now they know by wearing masks, washing hands often and through physical distancing, communities can slow down the spread of the coronavirus, Srinivasan said.

They screen patients for any COVID-19 exposure when they call to set up their appointments and when they arrive to the office. Every patient is provided with surgical masks as well, even if they have a homemade mask. Technologists are well equipped with PPE and minimize their exposure to patients.

“So now, in September, we are recommending that the patients who we said please do not come in for a screening mammogram back in March,