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Concerning decline of cancer diagnoses in Victoria in 2020

Wednesday 8 December, 2021

Each year, the Victorian Cancer Registry (VCR) at Cancer Council Victoria release a report called Cancer in Victoria which contains the world’s most up-to-date cancer incidence and mortality information. 

The latest report, released in December 2021 focused on findings from 2020 and found that in 2020, cancer diagnoses declined by 7 per cent – or about 2,420 less individual diagnoses in 2020, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most common cancers that went undiagnosed in Victoria in 2020 were cancers of the oral cavity (a 16% decline), prostate cancer (a 13% decline), melanoma (a 12% decline), and bowel cancer (a 11% decline).

VCR Director, Professor Sue Evans 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 said.

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 report also found that 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.

Vincent Lucas was diagnosed with both prostate and kidney cancer in March 2020. 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.”

“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,” he said.

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.