Pandemic has hit diagnostic procedures and treatments: Cancer Australia

Cancer care

By Mardi Chapman

13 Nov 2020

Cancer diagnostic procedures and treatments have been reduced by as much as 40%  in the first half of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, according to a Cancer Australia report.

The Review of the impact of COVID-19 on medical services and procedures in Australia utilising MBS data: Lung and prostate cancers shows a substantial reduction of 25-41% in diagnostic and therapeutic services for both cancers during the first wave of the pandemic.

The Cancer Australia report found diagnostic services for lung cancer including PET studies of lung nodules, needle biopsies and thoracoscopy/thoracotomy procedures decreased by 27% between March and April.

However surgical treatment procedures for lung cancer remained relatively unchanged between March and April 2020.

PSA testing for prostate cancer fell by 41% between March and April and both MRI and prostate biopsies decreased about 25% during the same time period.

Services for MRI scans of previously diagnosed prostate cancer decreased 25% between March and April.

Numbers of surgical and ablation treatment procedures for prostate cancer in April were about two-thirds that of the previous month.

Radiotherapy procedures decreased by 31% between March and April, fell further in May but had recovered by June.

Professor Dorothy Keefe, CEO of Cancer Australia, said in a statement that the reduction in diagnostic procedures and surgeries observed nationally was also seen in states and territories.

“This is particularly concerning, as any potential delays in diagnoses and treatment in response to these reductions may lead to more advanced stages of cancer at diagnosis and poorer patient outcomes,” she said.

The findings are consistent with those of a previous Cancer Australia report on the impact of the pandemic in reducing services and procedures related to skin, breast and colorectal cancers.

Also reported in the limbic, recent international research has found even a four-week delay in accessing surgical, systemic treatment and radiotherapy for many cancers was associated with a 10% increase in mortality.

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