September and October bring focus on women’s health through gynecologic and breast cancer awareness
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased hesitation among women to attend routine, potentially lifesaving cancer screenings, but a recent survey shows their intention to get “back on the books.”
Prevent Cancer Foundation released an August 2021 survey conducted with 2,003 women and people assigned female at birth between the ages of 21 and 60 years old located throughout the U.S. The survey shows mixed results for long-term cancer prevention.
Ninety percent of women say when local pandemic restrictions were lifted, they engaged in normal activities, such as visiting family and friends, dining out and shopping, but only 48% of women visited their doctors’ offices, according to the survey.
The Foundation is encouraging women to prioritize routine preventive care, such as annual exams and cancer screenings.
“With September being Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month and October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there’s an opportunity to place a spotlight on women’s health and increase cancer prevention and early detection,” said Jody Hoyos, president and chief operating officer of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. “We’re hopeful awareness will lead to action and women will get their preventive screenings ‘back on the books.’”
During the pandemic
The survey found that 74% of women who received a COVID-19 vaccine were hesitant to visit a doctor’s office during the first year and a half of the pandemic and that 31% of the women who did not schedule a breast or cervical screening say they were worried about being exposed to the coronavirus.
Twenty-eight percent of all women surveyed did not schedule a breast cancer screening and 26% did not schedule a cervical cancer screening during the pandemic.
“These cancer screenings are some of the most important steps women can take to take care of their health, including during the pandemic when other obligations may have taken priority,” said Dr. Angela Jones, M.D., FACOG, a board-certified obstetrics and gynecology expert. “Annual doctor visits can play a critical role in detecting cancer early before physical signs or symptoms appear. The earlier cancer is found, the better the odds for successful treatment.”
After vaccine rollout
Women are reporting that they feel more comfortable about scheduling doctors’ appointments now that vaccines for COVID-19 are readily available.
- 74% of women say they feel more comfortable going to their health care providers now than prior to the vaccine rollout.
- 65% of women say they plan to prioritize scheduling breast and cervical screenings before the beginning of 2022.
- 58% of women between the ages of 21 and 39 who postponed, canceled or did not show up to their cervical or breast screenings during the pandemic say they plan to reschedule their appointments before the new year. That percentage increases to 61% for women 40 to 60 years old.
Though the pandemic took a toll on women’s preventive health routines, it was not the only reason for canceled or postponed cancer screenings:
Nearly a quarter of women (24%) ages 40 to 60 say it’s been more than 36 months since their last appointment with their OB/GYN or primary care provider.
Nearly 40% of women reported having worries about feeling pain or discomfort and/or feelings of awkwardness during a routine breast or cervical cancer examination.
An information gap
The survey findings suggest an information gap that hinders women from receiving lifesaving preventive health care. Half of women don’t know how often they should be screened for cervical and breast cancers. The numbers are more disconcerting for younger women and women of color.
Half of women in the U.S. between the ages of 21 and 60 don’t know how often they should be screened for cervical cancer. Looking at this by age and race, the numbers show a more detailed picture:
- 62% of women between ages 21 and 24 say they don’t know how often they should be screened for cervical cancer.
- 55% of women ages 21 to 39 say they don’t know how often they should be screened for cervical cancer.
- 42% of women ages 40 to 60 say they don’t know how often they should be screened for cervical cancer.
- 53% of white women say they do know how often they should be screened for cervical cancer, while the numbers are reversed for women of color, with 53% of Black women, 53% of Latina women and 57% of Asian women saying they don’t know how often they should be screened for cervical cancer.
Forty-two percent of women say they don’t know how often they should be screened for breast cancer. Again, the numbers are greater for younger women and women of color.
- 54% of women ages 21 to 39 and 26% of women ages 40 to 60 say they don’t know how often they should be screened for breast cancer.
- 47% of Black women, 47% of Latina women, 54% of Asian women and 37% of white women say they don’t know how often they should be screened for breast cancer.
OB/GYNs and information sources
OB/GYNs provide the key to women getting their routine cancer screenings back on the books, because 43% of women consider their OB/GYN to be their primary care provider. That increases to more than one of every two women, or 51%, among women ages 21 to 39.
OB/GYNs are in a prime position to help women understand the importance of routine cancer screenings, but the survey found that information regarding preventive care needs to extend past the walls of doctors’ offices:
• Nearly one in five (19%) women say they have not received information regarding health and cancer screenings specific to women from anyone or anywhere.
• About one in six (17%) women ages 40 to 60 say they haven’t received information regarding health and cancer screenings specific to women.
• More than one in six (18%) women ages 21 to 24 say they’ve received information regarding health and cancer screenings specific to women from social media.
The survey findings also suggest that women could better use their connections with each other to promote their health care activity: 61% of women say they don’t often remind their female friends, family members and loved ones to get routine cancer screenings.
Women can find more information about early detection and cancer screenings by visiting the Prevent Cancer Foundation website. Early detection saves lives.