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Breast cancer notification down amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Sunday 12 July, 2020

New data released today reveals a concerning drop in cancer reporting in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions.

The data from the Victorian Cancer Registry at Cancer Council Victoria, shows that from April through to mid-May there was a reduction of up to 37 per cent in breast cancer reporting.

Victorian Cancer Registry Director, Professor Sue Evans said this data shows notifications for breast cancer started to decline in early April after isolation precautions were put in place in Victoria in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This information provides an indication of activity by testing laboratories and although preliminary, these early reports suggest a troubling relationship between COVID-19 and the amount of breast cancer reported.”

Head of Strategy and Support at Cancer Council Victoria, Danielle Spence said that data highlighted a concern that Victorians were delaying vital medical care due to fears about COVID-19 risks.

 “Our key concern is that people are not seeking medical attention when they find a change in their breast.

“We are hearing of people with breast changes not seeking medical attention, declining or delaying initial appointments or follow-up investigations due to anxiety over COVID-19 infection, changes to accessing health care and possibly other competing priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we need to stress is that health and screening services have put in place strict infection control procedures aimed at keeping their patients and staff safe during these difficult times.”

“Diagnostic imaging services are available to women through Medicare funded public hospital imaging services in addition to private imaging services. BreastScreen Victoria has also resumed services, following a temporary pause between March and May, for women without breast symptoms, and we urge women to attend an appointment if they have missed one or when they receive an invitation.”

Cancer Council Victoria’s concerns are shared by cancer experts across Victoria who are alarmed by the declining number of new referrals to public hospital clinics.

Surgical Oncologist and specialist breast surgeon, Professor Bruce Mann said, “We know early detection can have a positive impact on breast cancer outcomes for women, and we are worried that this data hints to what we might face in the months ahead – delayed cancer diagnoses. This could lead to more complex and difficult treatment for people diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, more than ever it is vital that people prioritise their health and that the public understands that even if restrictions are reimposed, essential medical care will remain available."

Emma, a 44-year-old single mum of two, noticed a change in her breast in February, and discovered she had breast cancer – right at the beginning of the pandemic.

“I was already feeling vulnerable just having cancer, but then to have COVID-19 worries on top of that, it makes you feel even more vulnerable. But if I had left my cancer, I would have a very different story now – I don’t know what my kids would have done. My treatment has been excellent the whole way through. Processes look a little different, for example, I spoke to my oncologist on the phone, but the care couldn’t have been better. I honestly feel more scared going to the supermarket than to my doctor or for my treatment.”

Anyone with a breast change or symptoms should see their GP for assessment and advice. If needed your GP will refer you for imaging and into a specialist breast cancer service.