Cancer screenings drop during environmental disasters and COVID-19 pandemic

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Puerto Rico, and the island has a high occurrence of early-stage colorectal cancer. Delays in screening lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment and harmful health outcomes. Researchers from the Puerto Rico CEAL Regional Team published an article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showing significant declines in colorectal and breast cancer screenings during the three months of 2017 when Hurricanes Irma and Maria occurred and from March through May 2020 in the first three months of the COVID-19 government “lockdown” in Puerto Rico.

"The cumulative impact of these natural disasters added to the pandemic has had profound implications for … the provision of oncology care, altering, delaying, or postponing the course of treatment and altering survival outcomes." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, October 2023

Researchers analyzed Medicaid data to determine screening rates, as 40% of Puerto Rico’s residents receive insurance through Medicaid programs. The sudden declines in screening are similar to findings from an earlier large-scale study of people from across the U.S. The authors of this study recommend public health programs promoting early screening and early diagnosis of these cancers among residents covered by Medicaid.

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A woman getting a breast exam.