Cancer screening in the United States did not return to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, according to study results published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. 

Researchers found that past-year screening rates for breast, cervical, and prostate cancer decreased from 2019 to 2021, though rates of colorectal cancer screening remained stable.

The researchers used data from the National Health Interview Survey to look at age-eligible screening for breast cancer (women aged 50-74 years), cervical cancer (women without a hysterectomy aged 21-65 years), prostate cancer (men aged 55-69 years), and colorectal cancer (men and women aged 50-75 years).

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From 2019 to 2021, past-year cancer screening decreased from:

  • 59.9% to 57.1% for breast cancer (adjusted prevalence ratio [aPR], 0.94; 95% CI, 0.91-0.97)
  • 45.3% to 39.0% for cervical cancer (aPR, 0.85; 95% CI, 0.82-0.89)
  • 39.5% to 36.3% for prostate cancer (aPR, 0.90; 95% CI, 0.84-0.97).

The rate of colorectal cancer screening was stable (21.1% in 2019 and 22.2% in 2021; aPR, 1.04; 95% CI, 0.98-1.09). The researchers noted that a 44% increase in home stool testing offset a 12% decrease in colonoscopies. 

“These findings reinforce the importance of strengthening return to screening campaigns for cancer prevention and control, and the major role physicians and other health care providers should play for the success of the campaigns,” the researchers concluded. “The large increase in stool testing is encouraging but will require increased colonoscopy follow-up of positive tests and an emphasis on annual testing.”

“The persistence of lower screening rates for breast, cervical, and prostate cancers in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic points to the importance of directed efforts across the health care system to strengthen cancer screening,” JCO Associate Editor Iona Cheng, PhD, wrote in a comment about the results.

Disclosures: Some study authors declared affiliations with biotech, pharmaceutical, and/or device companies. Please see the original reference for a full list of disclosures.


Star J, Bandi P, Siegel RL, et al. Cancer screening in the United States during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.J Clin Oncol. Published online February 23, 2023. doi:10.1200/JCO.22.02170

This article originally appeared on Cancer Therapy Advisor