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Concerning decline of cancer diagnoses in Victoria in 2020

Thursday 9 December, 2021

Cancer diagnoses in Victoria declined by 7 per cent – or about 2,420 fewer individual diagnoses in 2020 – likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, the most common cancers that went undiagnosed in Victoria were cancers of the oral cavity (a 16% decline), prostate cancer (a 13% decline), melanoma (a 12% decline), and bowel cancer (a 11% decline).

Breast cancer diagnoses in females fell during April to June but recovered slightly by the end of the year with a 5% decline.

These cancers accounted for 56 per cent of all diagnoses in Victoria. Two-thirds of the decline in diagnoses were among Victorians aged between 50 and 74 years old.

The data has been released today on Thursday, 9 December, by the Victorian Cancer Registry (VCR) at Cancer Council Victoria, as part of its publication, Cancer in Victoria 2020, which contains the world s most up-to-date cancer incidence and mortality information.

Professor Sue Evans, Director of the VCR, said that the reduction in diagnoses is likely due to Victorians not showing up for a screening or assessment during the pandemic.

“Given the steep decline in cancer diagnoses between April and June 2020, we had anticipated seeing a higher than anticipated number of diagnoses in the latter part of 2020, but this did not occur,” Professor Evans said.

Melbourne went through two COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, with the longest lasting 111 days from July to October.

“As such, the deficit in diagnoses grew throughout 2020 for most cancers.

“The decline in oral cancers specifically may be associated with Victorians not having their regular dental check-ups in 2020,” Professor Evans added.

In March 2020, the Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network (VCCN) Taskforce was established in response to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic on the care of cancer patients.

The impact of people not accessing services like cancer screening early on during lockdowns, rapid uptake of telehealth, vaccination uptake and guidelines and cancer workforce shortages are amongst the most discussed themes.

The network includes cancer clinicians and consumer advocacy groups working across cancer treatment and support, who are confronting the challenges COVID-19 poses for cancer patients.

Associate Professor Zee Wan Wong, Head of Oncology at Peninsula Health is concerned that there are over 2400 people in Victoria still undiagnosed with cancer.

“These undiagnosed cancer patients may present very late or with more complex clinical circumstances that could potentially make their care more complicated or have poorer outcomes.”

In 2020, more men were diagnosed with cancer than women. Men were diagnosed at a rate of 123 males for every 100 females.

There was a 13 per cent decline in prostate cancer diagnoses, making it one of the most undiagnosed cancers in Victoria in 2020.

In March 2020, Vincent Lucas was diagnosed with both prostate and kidney cancer. It was a simple annual PSA (prostate specific antigen) test which not only led to an early detection of his prostate cancer, but also assisted in the consequential detection of his kidney cancer.

I had no idea that a pandemic was about to impact the world and I had no signs of either cancer,” Mr Lucas said.

“Early detection and action have saved me a lot of complications. Thanks to my prostate diagnosis I was lucky to identify and act on the kidney cancer,” Mr Lucas added.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said that it is imperative that all Victorians prioritise their health.

It s understandable that with state and international borders now opening up, Victorians will be eager to get on with life as soon as possible,” Mr Harper said.

If you have been invited to participate in a cancer screening program, please don t delay – please make that your first priority. With 31 deaths from cancer every day in Victoria, we must act now to avoid a major health crisis.

“Cancer screening saves lives - it is one of the most effective ways to detect the early signs of cancer.

“We should also think about taking steps to reduce our risk of developing cancer, including quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy body weight, and being SunSmart, and talk to our GP about symptoms,” Mr Harper added.

Click here to view Cancer in Victoria 2020 .