Giorgi Rossi P, Carrozzi G, Falini P, Sampaolo L, Gorini G, Zorzi M, Armaroli P, Senore C, Sassoli de Bianchi P, Masocco M, Zappa M, Battisti F, Mantellini P.

Elife. 2023 Feb 3;12:e81804. doi: 10.7554/eLife.81804.

Background: In Italy, regions have the mandate to implement population-based screening programs for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer. From March to May 2020, a severe lockdown was imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic by the Italian Ministry of Health, with the suspension of screening programs. This paper describes the impact of the pandemic on Italian screening activities and test coverage in 2020 overall and by socioeconomic characteristics.

Methods: The regional number of subjects invited and of screening tests performed in 2020 were compared with those in 2019. Invitation and examination coverage were also calculated. PASSI surveillance system, through telephone interviews, collects information about screening test uptake by test provider (public screening and private opportunistic). Test coverage and test uptake in the last year were computed by educational attainment, perceived economic difficulties, and citizenship.

Results: A reduction of subjects invited and tests performed, with differences between periods and geographical macro areas, was observed in 2020 vs. 2019. The reduction in examination coverage was larger than that in invitation coverage for all screening programs. From the second half of 2020, the trend for test coverage showed a decrease in all the macro areas for all the screening programs. Compared with the pre-pandemic period, there was a greater difference according to the level of education in the odds of having had a test last year vs. never having been screened or not being up to date with screening tests.

Conclusions: The lockdown and the ongoing COVID-19 emergency caused an important delay in screening activities. This increased the preexisting individual and geographical inequalities in access. The opportunistic screening did not mitigate the impact of the pandemic.