New study finds cancer screenings rebounded following dramatic decline at onset of pandemic

March 23, 2021

Catch-up to pre-COVID-19 baseline levels still requires prioritization of high-risk individuals to get deferred preventative care

SAN FRANCISCO – March 23, 2021 – A new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that while preventative cancer screenings for breast and colorectal cancers declined significantly during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, use of these procedures returned to near-baseline levels by the end of July 2020.

An analysis of insurance claims data by Castlight Health (NYSE: CSLT) and collaborators at RAND Corporation of more than 6 million Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance between January and July of 2020 showed that mammography rates among women aged 45 to 64 declined by 96 percent during March and April 2020 compared to January and February. The weekly rate of colorectal cancer screenings among adults aged 45 to 64 and older declined by 95 percent over the same period.

The study found that by the end of July 2020, the rate of mammograms (88.2 per 10K population) had rebounded and was slightly higher than what had been recorded before the pandemic was officially declared in March 2020 (87.8 per 10K population). The rate of colorectal cancer screenings also rebounded (12.6 per 10K population), although it remained at slightly below pre-pandemic levels (15.1 per 10K population).

“These are the first findings to show that despite real fears about the consequences of the drop-off in cancer screens, health facilities figured out how to pick these back up after initial lockdowns,” said Ryan McBain, the study’s lead author and a policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Our study shows that health systems were able to recalibrate resources and protocols in a relatively short interval to deliver these important services.”

While the return to near pre-pandemic baseline levels was encouraging, it did not offset the large number of individuals who did not receive preventative screenings during April and May. Researchers would have had to show a significant increase in preventive services to conclude that all or most deferred care had been received.

“Although it is reassuring to see cancer screening rates begin to return to pre-pandemic levels, we must remain vigilant in ensuring that people who deferred preventative services are prioritized,” says Dr. Dena Bravata, chief medical officer of Castlight Health and senior affiliate, Stanford Center of Primary Care & Outcomes Research. “This presents a significant opportunity for employers to encourage their employees, especially those at higher risk of disease, to get the preventative care they need.”

Other authors of the study also include Ryan K. McBain, Jonathan Cantor, and Christopher Whaley of the RAND Corporation, and Anupam Jena of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and Megan Pera of Castlight Health.

Support was provided by the National Institutes on Aging and the National Institutes on Health.

About Castlight Health

Castlight is on a mission to make it as easy as humanly possible for people to navigate the healthcare system and live happier, healthier, more productive lives. As a leader in healthcare navigation, we provide a world-class digital platform with a team of clinical and benefits experts to help members easily connect and engage with the right programs and care, at the right time. Castlight partners with Fortune 500 companies and health plans to transform employee and member benefits into one comprehensive health and wellbeing experience to deliver better health outcomes and maximize returns on healthcare investments.

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Caroline Kawashima

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Castlight Health

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