Cancer screening programmes in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic: an update of a nationwide survey on activity volumes and delayed diagnoses

Ann Ist Super Sanita. 2022 Jan-Mar;58(1):16-24. doi: 10.4415/ANN_22_01_03.


Introduction: In Italy, regional governments are in charge of implementing cervical, breast and colorectal cancer screening programmes. The 2020 Coronavirus pandemic led to a national lockdown and the temporary suspension of several non-urgent healthcare activities, including cancer screening. This paper aims to describe the results of a national survey carried out by the National Centre for Screening Monitoring (ONS) on cervical, breast and colorectal cancer screening activities in 2020.

Materials and methods: A national survey was conducted by ONS in 2020 to assess: the number of screening invitations by Region; the volumes of screening tests and the attitude to attend the screening programme compared to 2019; the number of delayed diagnoses of malignant or pre-malignant lesions caused by the slowing down of screening programmes, based on the average Region-specific screening detection rate for cervical, breast and colorectal cancers.

Results: Screening tests for breast, colorectal and cervical cancer decreased by 37.6%, 45.5% and 43.4% in 2020 compared with 2019. In 2020 the estimated numbers of undiagnosed lesions are: 3,324 breast cancers, 1,299 colorectal cancers, 7,474 colorectal advanced adenomas and 2,782 CIN2 or more severe cervical lesions. Participation in cancer screening programmes decreased by 15%, 15% and 20%, for cervical, breast and CRC screening, respectively.

Discussion and conclusions: An urgent call to action is needed to prevent further delays and to limit the impact of the pandemic on cancer diagnosis and prevention.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / diagnosis
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Delayed Diagnosis
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control