Recovering from 2020: Time to prioritise early detection

Wednesday 21 April, 2021

More than 2,500 cancers went undiagnosed in Victoria between April and October last year due in part to COVID-related restrictions.

Thanks to support like yours, the Victorian Cancer Registry at Cancer Council Victoria was able to record the data and sound the alarm on this concerning information. This has prompted more campaigns that urge Victorians to get checked and potentially save their own life.

The Victorian Cancer Registry estimate that 2,530 cancer diagnoses were missed or delayed between 1 April 2020 and 15 October 2020, based on the registry receiving 5,446 (10%) fewer pathology notifications than expected over the period.

While the impact of these delays is unknown, it will have greatest impact on patients diagnosed with aggressive cancers, with experts concerned of a future ‘cancer surge’.

Director of the Victorian Cancer Registry Professor Sue Evans said the delay in cancer diagnoses for many Victorians could mean their cancer is detected at a later stage. This could mean potentially fewer treatment options and worse outcomes.

“Sadly, around 2,500 Victorians will not only be faced with the prospect of being diagnosed with cancer, but with a later stage cancer than they possibly may have been. This could have devastating consequences for many patients, families and loved ones,” said Prof Evans.

Professor Evans said the most significant decrease in pathology notifications, and therefore likely missed diagnoses, occurred for head and neck, prostate, breast cancer and melanoma, in older Victorians, in men, and in people living in higher socio-economic areas.

“This surge in later stage cancers will increase demand on our health system, as well as on supportive care services, which should expect a possible influx of more complex cases as a result.”

CEO of Cancer Council Victoria, Todd Harper, stressed the importance for all Victorians to prioritise health checks and cancer screening to identify any missed cancer still undetected.

“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in up to a 30% decline in certain cancer diagnostic procedures and an 18% decline in cancer treatments in Australia between January and June 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

“As we emerge into a state of ‘COVID-normal’ it is imperative for us all to encourage and support each other to prioritise our health. If you have been invited to participate in a cancer screening program, please do not delay,” Mr Harper urged.

“Cancer screening saves lives – it is one of the most effective ways to detect the early signs of cancer, when successful treatment is more likely.”

Encouraging more Victorians to get checked

Here’s an overview of how your support is encouraging more Victorians to stay on top of their screening – so we can catch more cancers early and save lives.

Don’t Delay

With your support, Cancer Council Victoria were able to quickly inform Victorians of the dangers of delaying their screening in October last year.

Screening Program Manager at Cancer Council Victoria Kate Broun had a clear message for the public.

“If you have received an invitation to participate in any of the three cancer screening programs, please do not delay because of COVID-19. Screening providers are open, with measures in place to protect clients and staff,” she said.

“Participation in cancer screening helps save lives and reduces the load on the health care system into the future.”

Cervical screening campaign for young Victorians

Looking forward, Cancer Council Victoria will launch a campaign this year encouraging Victorians aged between 25 and 35 to take part in regular cervical screening.

Currently, over half of eligible women or people with a cervix are missing out on lifesaving cervical screening.

Cervical cancer survivor Amanda was diagnosed at just 30 years of age.

A shadow was cast over the happiest day of her life – giving birth to her third child – when doctors noticed an unusual growth on her cervix.

“I have been able to help so many others. People have told me that they’ve had a niggling feeling, and since hearing my story, decided they should go and get checked.”

Amanda with her three kids, Sebastian (left) Talia (bottom) and Frankie.

After six months of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy that turned her young family’s life upside down, Amanda is now cancer free.

“I find a lot of women think cervical cancer especially is an older woman’s disease, and it’s just not,” said Amanda.

“I was super naive before I got diagnosed!”

Increasing bowel cancer screening rates in Victoria

Tragically, around 100 Australians die from bowel cancer each week. Yet if detected early, over 90% of all bowel cancer cases could be treated successfully.

That’s why Cancer Council Victoria continues to highlight the importance of participating in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Later this year, we will be running a communications campaign to save more lives.

With your support, in 2017 we ran a campaign that encouraged eligible Australians to do the simple and easy test that’s sent by the National Bowel Cancer Screening Campaign.

It resulted in approximately 12,500 extra Victorians screening for bowel cancer during the campaign period – saving more than 300 people from developing bowel cancer and more than 180 from dying of bowel cancer.

Thank you for making this work possible. You’re helping us save lives by catching more cancers earlier.

Find out more about how to get checked and make sure you’re up to date with your cancer screening

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