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The pandemic postpones cancer diagnosis.

The pandemic postpones cancer diagnosis.

Published By Victoria

According to research, a new epidemic, this time of cancer, may be on the horizon.

A new study from the United States confirms what health experts have long assumed and feared: limited access to healthcare services during the COVID-19 epidemic has delayed cancer diagnoses.

Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine evaluated data from over nine million veterans at over 1200 medical institutions. They discovered that new cancer diagnoses had decreased by 13–23 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels, depending on cancer type.

Colonoscopies, prostate biopsies, cystoscopies, and chest computed tomography (CT) scans were all utilised less often in 2020, according to the statistics. Colonoscopies, prostate biopsies, cystoscopies, and chest CTs, in particular, were reduced by 45 percent, 29 percent, 21 percent, and 10 percent, respectively.

Dr Brajesh Lal, the study's principal author, said that the interruption in non-emergency healthcare at the height of the epidemic was planned and essential.

As they approach the recovery phase, they hope that the study will assist doctors, hospitals, and healthcare organisations anticipate how far they have fallen behind in their attempts to diagnose new tumours.

It will also assist them in allocating the necessary resources and time to re-engage with patients.

The delay in cancer detection is not limited to the United States. Although research into the rates of cancer diagnoses during COVID-19 is still ongoing in Australia, there has been a nationwide decrease in a population-based screening of asymptomatic patients, with data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) showing that fewer mammograms and cervical screening tests (CST) were performed in 2020.

Between January and June 2020, about 145,000 fewer mammograms were performed than during the same time in 2018, owing mostly to lockdowns and the temporary closure of breast screening facilities.

Screening rates increased in the latter part of 2020 once limitations were lifted and services restarted. Still, a continuing breast screening backlog has patients and doctors requesting more screening capacity to fill the gap.

Terri Smith, CEO of BreastScreen Victoria, told newsGP that they have seen increased demand and lengthier wait times at some of their clinics since reopening due to the implementation of COVID-19 safety measures.

'To accommodate these critical measures, we had to restrict the total number of appointments offered,' she said.

'We're working hard to make more appointments available throughout our program safely and sustainably.'

There was a comparable drop in cervical screening levels during the pandemic, with AIHW statistics indicating fewer tests completed in 2020 than in 2019. However, because of recent changes in the National CST Program, which saw Pap smears replaced by the new five-yearly CST beginning on December 1, 2017, it is impossible to comment on the real pandemic effect.

Although the pandemic did not seem to influence bowel cancer screening rates directly, it is worth noting that the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program has recently enlarged its target demographic and increased testing frequency.

Due to a higher number of invitations being sent out during this time, it is difficult to quantify the influence of the pandemic on patterns of bowel cancer screening, as it was with cervical screening.

Cancer does not discriminate and may hit anybody at any moment, as the late RACGP President, Dr Harry Nespolon, died in 2020 after battling pancreatic cancer.

Dr Karen Price, the current President of the RACGP, is also no stranger to cancer. She recently spoke about her battle with breast cancer, for which she had a double mastectomy shortly after learning she had won the RACGP presidential election.

She said that they simply need people to keep coming to their GP for check-ups, go through the normal screenings, and realise that health and sickness are not inseparable, but they intersect because that's the life of being human.

Ms Smith explains that, with COVID being pretty well confined in Australia at the moment, patients are, hopefully, beginning to resume screening and health checks. However, due to the longer-than-usual waiting lists, it is more crucial than ever for GPs and patients to schedule appointments on time.

She added that it’s been nice to see demand for our service, which shows that women are comfortable returning to screen.

Appointments are available, even if waiting times in our clinics are more extended than typical, owing to COVID-19 safety precautions.

They recommend any customers who have been invited for a routine breast screening to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.


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