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Examining the impact of COVID-19 disruptions on population-based breast cancer screening in Ireland.

OBJECTIVE: Many population-based breast screening programmes temporarily suspended routine screening following the COVID-19 pandemic onset. This study aimed to describe screening mammography utilisation and the pattern of screen-detected breast cancer diagnoses following COVID-19-related screening disruptions in Ireland.

METHODS: Using anonymous aggregate data from women invited for routine screening, three time periods were examined: (1) January-December 2019, (2) January-December 2020, and (3) January-December 2021. Descriptive statistics were conducted and comparisons between groups were performed using chi-square tests.

RESULTS: In 2020, screening mammography capacity fell by 67.1% compared to 2019; recovering to 75% of mammograms performed in 2019, during 2021. Compared to 2019, for screen-detected invasive breast cancers, a reduction in Grade 1 (14.2% vs. 17.2%) and Grade 2 tumours (53.4% vs. 58.0%) and an increase in Grade 3 tumours (32.4% vs. 24.8%) was observed in 2020 ( p  = 0.03); whereas an increase in Grade 2 tumours (63.3% vs. 58.0%) and a reduction in Grade 3 tumours (19.6% vs. 24.8%) was found in 2021 ( p  = 0.02). No changes in oestrogen receptor-positive or nodal-positive diagnoses were observed; however the proportion of oestrogen/progesterone receptor-positive breast cancers significantly increased in 2020 (76.2%; p  < 0.01) and 2021 (78.7%; p  < 0.001) compared to 2019 (67.8%).

CONCLUSION: These findings demonstrate signs of a grade change for screen-detected invasive breast cancers early in the pandemic, with recovery evident in 2021, and without an increase in nodal positivity. Future studies are needed to determine the COVID-19 impact on long-term breast cancer outcomes including mortality.

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