The Trajectory of Racial/Ethnic Disparities in the Use of Cancer Screening Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Large U.S. Academic Center Analysis


BACKGROUND: Cancer screening rates declined sharply early in the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the pandemic may have exacerbated existing disparities in cancer screening due to the disproportionate burden of illness and job loss among racial/ ethnic minorities, and potentially, uneven resumption of care between different racial/ ethnic groups.

METHODS: Using electronic health record data from Mass General Brigham (MGB), we assessed changes in rates of breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancer screening before and during the pandemic. Among patients who received primary care in an MGB-affiliated primary care practice, cancer screening rates were calculated as the number of individuals who received a screening test for each cancer type over the number of individuals due for each test, during each month between April 2019-November 2020.

RESULTS: We conducted an interrupted time-series analysis to test for changes in screening rates by race/ethnicity before and during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, relative to White individuals, Asian women were less likely to receive breast cancer screening (p < 0.001), and Latinx and Black individuals were less likely to screen for lung cancer (p < 0.001 and p = 0.02). Our results did not show significant improvement or worsening of racial/ethnic disparities for any cancer screening type as screening resumed. However, as of November 2020 rates of screening for breast cancer were lower than pre-pandemic levels for Latinx individuals, and lung cancer screening rates were higher than baseline for Latinx, Black or White individuals. Further monitoring of disparities in cancer screening is warranted as the pandemic evolves.