Rising to the Challenge of Increasing Breast Cancer Screenings During Difficult Times

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States, with approximately 255,000 women diagnosed each year and 42,000 dying from it.[1], [2] However, breast cancer death rates did decline by 40% between 1989 and 2016 and that is largely attributed to early detection.[3] Breast cancer screening is the best way to detect the potentially deadly disease early, when it is easier to treat, saving lives and money.[2]

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, organizations like the National Breast Cancer Foundation are encouraging us to RISE and Rally In Screening Everyone. This is more important than ever, as the COVID-19 pandemic led to a decrease in preventive care, like breast cancer screening. One study at a large healthcare system in the Northeast found a 75.96% decrease in the number of cancer screenings during the first three months of the pandemic compared to the same time period the previous year. This potentially led to approximately 1,438 cancerous or pre-cancerous diagnoses being missed.[4]

Even though cancer screening has proven to save lives through early detection, it’s still a challenge to get people to schedule a test. And when COVID disrupted all healthcare routines, it became even more difficult to get members to seek preventive care, like cancer screenings.

How One Client Dramatically Increased Cancer Screenings

Health Dialog worked with a large employer client to help increase screenings for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer. Using the Pathways Engine, our predictive analytics and machine learning platform, we were able to accurately identify members who should be receiving these life-saving screenings, but had not. We then conducted monthly interactive voice response (IVR) calls with identified members.

This automated system allowed us to confirm we contacted the right person, provide a message on the importance of screening and provide options for getting more information. If the member indicated an interest, Health Dialog sent them helpful materials on how to prepare for their screening, what to expect and what they would learn from their health screening. Additionally, if the member had questions about preventive screenings or any other health concerns, they were encouraged to contact a Health Dialog Health Coach, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A much higher percentage of members who listened to the IVR message received their needed cancer screenings within 180 days compared to those who did not interact with the message. The following demonstrates how many more members got screenings among those who listened to the calls compared to those who didn’t hear the message:

  • Breast Cancer – 29%
  • Colorectal Cancer – 27%
  • Cervical Cancer – 18%

Life and Cost Saving Results

Getting these screenings was about more than just checking a box. Several resulted in a cancer diagnosis. As with breast cancer, detecting these conditions early, sometimes even before symptoms start, is the best way to fight the disease, keep it from spreading or from becoming life threatening. This decreases the need for ongoing, invasive treatments, improving members’ whole health while reducing overall costs. With the technology to identify members with a gap in screening and interact with them in a compelling way, we can rise to the challenge of fighting cancer, even during a pandemic.


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast Cancer Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/statistics/

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast Cancer Awareness. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/resources/features/breastcancerawareness/index.htm.

[3] National Breast Cancer Foundation. https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/.

[4] Bakouny, Z., MD, MSc.; et al (2021). Cancer Screening Tests and Cancer Diagnoses During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Oncology. 2021;7(3):458-460. Doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.7600. January 14, 2021. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaoncology/fullarticle/2774867?guestAccessKey=8e9733f4-229b-4616-a1fe-169ee2e23abd&utm_source=For_The_Media&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=ftm_links&utm_content=tfl&utm_term=011421.

Topics: Solutions & Best Practices