Elective surgery and cancer under COVID-19 restrictions

Monday 3 August, 2020
David Speakman, Chief Medical Officer at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, answers some common questions about the COVID-19 restrictions on elective surgery for people affected by cancer.
Q: How will the restriction on elective surgery affect cancer patients who are waiting for surgery?

The Victorian Government has been very specific that this restriction should not be applied to cancer surgery and treatments – saying: “During COVID-19 and the reduction in public hospital elective surgery activity to a maximum of quota of 75 per cent it is essential to exempt procedures necessary for cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment. Maintaining surveillance imaging procedures according to standards of care is also recommended.”

Regardless, at Peter Mac, we generally undertake Category 1 and Category 2 elective surgery, so the decision to reduce activity has not had a significant impact on our cancer patients.

Elective surgery categories are according to urgency – Category 1 is required within 30 days. Category 2 is required within 90 days for conditions that cause pain or dysfunction or disability. Surgery conducted at Peter Mac is usually in these two categories, rather than Category 3 which is usually assessed as being required within 12 months.

No urgent surgery is being delayed under this policy.

The Victorian Government has been very specific that this restriction should not be applied to cancer surgery and treatments

Q: What types of cancer-related surgeries will be affected?

None. All necessary cancer surgery and diagnostic cancer tests are continuing. The only kinds of cancer surgery that might be affected would be delayed reconstructive procedures.

 All necessary cancer surgery and diagnostic cancer tests are continuing

Q: Will I need to be tested for COVID-19 as part of my preparation for surgery and what will this mean for me?

Yes, we’re asking that people who are going to go under general anaesthetic are tested before their surgery. It’s important to keep you safe – as we do not want people who are COVID-19 positive to be put under general anaesthetic.

At Peter Mac, people who are scheduled to have surgery are given information about how to get a test – and then asked to self-isolate until the surgery appointment.

It’s important to keep you safe – as we do not want people who are COVID-19 positive to be put under general anaesthetic.

Q: What impact will this have for my treatment plan and recovery?

The request to have a COVID-19 test should have little impact on your surgery, unless you return a positive result. In that case, a plan would be developed with your surgeon and medical team, depending on your individual diagnosis and circumstances.

Q: Who can I talk to if I have concerns?

In the first instance, the best people to speak to are the members of your medical team – they can provide individual advice.

The best people to speak to are the members of your medical team