MINNESOTA (WCCO) – October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and since the pandemic began there’s been a sharp decline in breast cancer screening according to the CDC.

The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionally impact at-risk communities where economic and other barriers to health care provide an increase in the occurrence of preventable diseases.

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For Minneapolis resident Johnnie Rodgers, prevention is key for a healthy life.

“I want to keep check [so] that if something does happen to me, we can catch it early,” said Rodgers.

Rodgers, along with dozens of others, took advantage of the free cancer screening event held at Northpoint Health on Saturday. The annual event is sponsored by the College of American Pathologist (CAP).

“Because of the pandemic, a lot of people got left behind. They are a couple years behind cancer screening. We’re hoping to fill that need,” said Lisa Jones, the breast health coordinator for Northpoint. “Recommendations for mammography is every one to two years for 40 and older.”

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Jonas said when radiologists are reading mammograms they’re looking for small changes of the breast over time that may indicate cancer is growing. She added that one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at least once in their lifetime.

Patients receive same day results and the free event also screened for ovarian cancer as cervical screenings dropped 84% nationwide since the pandemic, according to the CDC.

“What normally takes about five days, we compress it to 45 minutes,” said Dr. Brad Linzie, a pathologist for Hennepin County Medical Center. “It’s an education event. We give women results right away and they also look at their slides, they get a pathologists and find out how we find the HVP virus or cancer or pre-cancer cells on the pap smear.”

Linzie is urging people to get checked early because it could take years before symptoms start forming. It’s an important lesson Rodgers said she experienced personally.

“When I had ovarian cancer it [had] been there for a while. I think it progressed over the years and I was in my 50s when I found out,” explained Rodgers.

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Breast and cervical cancer screenings are part of the Sage Screening program which means they are free in the state of Minnesota to people who qualify.

Pafoua Yang