Cancer services down by up to 14% due to pandemic, new report shows

Cancer care

By Michael Woodhead

30 Sep 2021

Professor Dorothy Keefe

Professor Dorothy Keefe

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a sustained negative impact on cancer services with an 8% overall reduction in cancer-related MBS services in 2020, according to a new Cancer Australia report.

It shows that in 2020, there were 163,595 fewer cancer-related diagnostic procedures services for 14 cancer types.

The impact varied by cancer type with the number of services in 2020 significantly lower than expected for colorectal cancer (13% lower; 87,293 fewer services), liver cancer (12% lower; 488 fewer services), lung cancer (9% lower; 3,884 fewer services), prostate cancer (7% lower; 50,618 fewer services), and stomach and pancreatic cancers combined (6% lower; 870 fewer services).

Some cancers such breast and uterine cancer showed less than 5% change in services.

Across all therapeutic procedures examined, there were 9%  fewer services observed nationally when compared to the number of services expected for these cancer types.

Reductions in therapeutic services also varied cancer type, with reductions in surgical and nonsurgical therapeutic procedures being lower than expected for breast cancer (6% lower), melanoma skin cancers (14% lower), pancreatic cancer (7% lower), and gynaecological cancers, cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulval combined (8% lower).

There were also decreases in the  number of diagnostic cancer-related procedures observed in 2020 of between 6% to13% for colorectal, liver, lung and prostate cancers, and stomach and pancreatic cancers combined.  For example, there were 87,293 fewer services in 2020 for colorectal cancer-related diagnostic procedures such as colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies, the report noted.

“This report shows us the sustained impact of the pandemic by presenting the number of cancer-related diagnostic services and therapeutic procedures between January and December 2020, and how these compare to previous years,” said Professor Dorothy Keefe CEO Cancer Australia.

“Any potential delays in diagnoses and treatment in response to these reductions in services may lead to more cancers being diagnosed at a later stage and poorer outcomes for some patients,” she said

Professor Keefe said the findings highlighted the importance of the Cancer Won’t Wait, campaign that encourage Australians with potential cancer  symptoms to not to delay seeing their doctor to have it checked out.

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