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Campaign urges people to see their doctor as new data raises alarm on declining cancer notifications

Friday 21 August, 2020

Data released today by Cancer Council Victoria indicates melanoma reporting to the Victorian Cancer Registry decreased by 31 per cent in the first period of restrictions in Victoria (30 March to 30 June 2020) compared to the pre-COVID period (1 Feb to 27 March 2020).

The data underlines an emerging concern amongst health care professionals that some cancers are not being diagnosed because people are nervous about visiting doctors for check-ups, cancer screening and important follow-up investigations.

Victorian Cancer Registry Director, Professor Sue Evans, said notifications for melanoma declined in early April after isolation precautions were put in place in Victoria in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The data released indicates activity of testing laboratories; a reduction in reporting cancer notifications may indicate a drop in cancer diagnoses.”

CEO of Cancer Council Victoria, Todd Harper, said the data aligns with anecdotal information suggesting people are deferring appointments as a result of COVID-19 related concerns.

“There is increasing concern amongst health professionals that people with signs of cancer, and other health conditions, may not be contacting their doctors to discuss new symptoms.”

Mr Harper said the data, and the increasing feedback that people are avoiding critical appointments, prompted Cancer Council Victoria to develop its “Don’t Delay” campaign which will be broadcast from Sunday.

“Unfortunately, other medical issues don’t just stop because of COVID-19. The campaign is a timely reminder not to delay medical appointments, as ensuring symptoms are checked out might just save your life. It’s also important to continue cancer screening for breast, bowel and cervical cancer.”

“It’s understandable that some Victorians may be anxious about visiting their doctor but health services have implemented infection control and health professionals are doing all they can to make sure it is safe to attend appointments, either in person or via telehealth,” said Mr Harper.

Director of the Victorian Melanoma Service at the Alfred Hospital, Associate Professor Victoria Mar, said the service has seen fewer referrals, particularly of earlier stage disease, during COVID-19.

“More than 3000 Victorians are diagnosed with melanoma every year so doing skin checks and detecting them early remains vitally important.”

“Being aware of what is on your own skin will help you identify any new or changing lesions early, and if there is anything unusual it is better to err on the side of caution and ask your doctor.”

“If people put off getting a suspicious spot examined it may present later with more complicated and progressed cancer – making treatment options more challenging,” said Professor Mar.

John Stewart, of Ballarat, became aware of a suspicious mole on his own body, and was advised to have it removed, right in the middle of the pandemic. “The care I received was second to none. All of the safety-checks were in place when I saw my doctor, and I felt very safe. I suppose my main message is – every day counts with melanoma. If you notice something unusual for you, if its melanoma or something else, anything else, just get it checked out. It really could save your life.”