A ‘drastically different’ Pinktober for breast radiologists and patients than years past

The conclusion of September holds special meaning in breast imaging, but this year’s Pinktober is “drastically different” from previous iterations, experts say.

Widespread shutdowns of mammography screening services during the COVID-19 pandemic have left thousands of women in danger. One recent analysis out of the United Kingdom’s largest breast cancer charity estimated a backlog of 1 million women requiring screenings across the country. Another predicted upward of 10,000 excess deaths in the U.S. due to postponed colon and breast cancer imaging.

All of this has radiology advocacy groups urging the field to be on high alert during 2020’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“Although we will continue to experience ‘Pinktober’ for the next 31 days, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, October 2020 will look drastically different from years past,” Dana Smetherman, MD, chair of the American College of Radiology’s Commission on Breast Imaging, wrote Thursday. “As the pink October spotlight shines on breast cancer, I urge radiologists to use this opportunity to encourage patients to #ReturnToCare and get back on track with all of their other preventive screening and wellness activities,” she added later.

To aid in this effort, the ACR released a new mammography toolkit on Thursday. The free package includes a patient safety infographic, breast cancer risk assessment handout for patients, and a template letter for primary care physicians and other providers.

“While we help our practices recover from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended shutdown, it is crucial that we also help our referring clinicians reconnect with women ages 40 and older and encourage them to schedule yearly mammograms postponed by the pandemic,” ACR said in an Oct. 1 news item.

Several radiology providers this week highlighted initiatives they’re undertaking to bolster breast imaging rates. Radiology Associates in Texas, for one, is providing free screenings at a local mall. Others are touting mobile mammography units, while a university in Australia just released an animated video highlighting breast density’s impact on screening.