Routine cancer screenings dropped precipitously during the pandemic and have yet to rebound to pre-pandemic levels.

A new study from researchers at the American Cancer Society found that millions of Americans missed important cancer screening tests in 2020, when hospitals suspended non-urgent medical services to preserve resources for treating COVID-19 patients at the start of the pandemic. The review, published online this month in JAMA Network Open, found:

  • Mammograms dropped 6% in 2020 compared to 2018.

  • Cervical cancer screening was down 11% compared to 2018.

  • Colonoscopies dropped 16% in 2020 compared to 2018, but the decline was partially offset by a 7% increase in at-home stool testing for colon cancer.

“Many people caught up on screenings later in 2020, but overall, the COVID-19 pandemic kept screenings down over the course of the entire year,” said Ahmedin Jemal, senior vice president of surveillance & health equity science at the American Cancer Society and the study’s senior author, in a statement. “As we move forward, it’s crucial to get people back into their doctor’s offices to get screened.”

To that end, Penn Medicine will hold a series of community health events in June with free cancer screenings. The initiative, a partnership between Penn, CommunityOfCompassionCDC.com, and Siemens Healthineers is intended to improve access to screening in underserved neighborhoods.

“Screening really does save lives,” said Linda White Nunes, vice chair of inclusion, diversity, and equity for the department of radiology at Penn. “Being able to detect cancer at earlier stages, when it’s likely to be contained and we can preserve quality of life is really important.”

Doctors are concerned that delays in routine screening during the pandemic may contribute to a rise in cancer diagnoses at a later stage, which is why it’s important for anyone who missed a screening to reschedule as soon as possible, Nunes said.

Here’s how to get your free cancer screening:

  • Sunday, June 12, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the William C. Bryant Promise Academy, 6001 Cedar Avenue in Philadelphia: Free 10-minute screenings for breast cancer and prostate cancer, no appointment or insurance needed, Spanish translation services available. At-home colon cancer screening kits and risk assessments for lung cancer and family cancer will be available.

  • Monday, June 13 through Thursday, June 23, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the William C. Bryant Promise Academy, 6001 Cedar Avenue in Philadelphia: On weekdays only, Penn will offer free mammograms for people over age 40. Appointments are not necessary but are encouraged. Call 267-414-2205 to schedule. On Friday, June 24, the breast cancer screening clinic will close early, at 4 p.m.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.