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The effects of contracting COVID-19 can be disastrous for your health, but of equal concern is the fact that people may be neglecting their health because of the virus.
Presentations at doctors' surgeries, medical centres and hospitals have decreased markedly, partly because people are scared of being exposed to the virus and partly because they don't want to become a burden on what they feel is a health system under severe pressure.
People are not being screened
COVID-19 restrictions have had an impact on people being screened for cancer. We know that the earlier cancer is detected, the more treatment options a person has and the better their chance of survival.
We have seen a concerning reduction in the number of people being screened for some of Australia's deadliest cancers.
- Skin checks at Chris O'Brien Lifehouse were put on hold due to social distancing
- BreastScreen NSW temporarily paused screening though the program is now fully operational again
- PSA blood tests to detect prostate cancer dropped by 60 per cent
- Chris O'Brien Lifehouse saw a drop in referrals for colonoscopies, to detect bowel cancer
Melanoma, prostate, bowel and breast cancer are four of the five most common cancers affecting Australians.
The implications of people not being screened are numerous. When people do eventually visit the doctor, the cancer has advanced.
This can mean more complex surgery and treatment if required. Now that elective surgery is allowed, there is a backlog of colonoscopies to get through.
Doctors are concerned there will be a 'tidal wave' of cancer as these cases begin to come through the system.
Screening is particularly useful for detecting cancer before any symptoms show up. Delaying until there is a symptom means we lose valuable time to treat the cancer.
Specialists at Chris O'Brien Lifehouse encourage patients not to put off seeing their GPs.
"It is imperative that patients continue to do bowel cancer screening (FOBT) and see their GP or specialist for gastrointestinal symptoms like bleeding, reflux or swallowing disorders," Clinical Associate Professor, Gastroenterologist and Interventional Endoscopist, Payal Saxena said.
"Depending on the clinical scenario, all these symptoms can be signs of cancer and must be investigated. With telehealth, there is no excuse not to "see" a doctor."
Urologist Nariman Ahmadi says prostate cancer is the most common cancer for men in Australia, with over 20,000 cases diagnosed each year.
"Only 36 per cent of patients are diagnosed at an early stage and unfortunately 3,500 men die each year in Australia because of prostate cancer.
"We fear that the drop in PSA tests will result in higher rates of high-grade or metastatic cancer in coming months to years, which was the experience in USA as a result of reduction in PSA testing in 2012-2015," he noted.
"Due to the change in recommendations by the regulatory bodies, a significant rise in high grade cancers was noted, which prompted in reversal of the recommendations."
There are similar concerns in the area of breast cancer especially with those patients with a family or personal history.
"I would encourage patients to return to their regular screening, especially patients with a family history or a personal history of breast cancer," head of breast surgery Dr Cindy Mak said.
"Anyone with a symptom should present to their GP as well to get that checked. Australia is doing so well with Covid-19 that the risk of harm from that is lower than the risk of not going for a regular check."
Patients concerned about seeing doctors during COVID-19 may be able to have a telehealth consultation.
"To encourage people not to delay having their skin checked, we have been offering telemedicine consultations and virtual review of biopsy results and photos of the suspicious skin lesions," reconstructive and plastic surgeon Dr Joe Dusseldorp said.
There is a lot that can be done by telehealth and even some follow-ups can be done using videocall technology to avoid multiple visits to our clinic."
Cancer care is all we do
Chris O'Brien Lifehouse provides cancer care to patients from across NSW, especially the rare and complex cases. For any concerns about possible signs or symptoms of cancer, Chris O'Brien Lifehouse has an advice line staffed by experts, askChrisOBrienLifehouse - 02 8514 1414.
About Chris O'Brien Lifehouse
Chris O'Brien Lifehouse is a not-for-profit, comprehensive cancer hospital. From screening to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and wellness, we specialise in advanced care for patients with cancer, including the most rare and complex cases. We treat nearly 60,000 patients from across Australia every year, using the latest technology in a modern, purpose-built hospital. We work closely with the University of Sydney as an affiliated partner to share and leverage resources, expertise and a commitment to excellence through education and research.
We provide a full range of services to ensure patients receive all the cancer care they need in a single facility: this includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation oncology, research, supportive care and evidence-based complementary therapies including acupuncture, mindfulness, reflexology, massage and exercise physiology.
Statistics from Cancer Institute NSW show that our patients have a greater chance of survival at 90 days than the New South Wales average. Many factors contribute to this - a concentration of expertise, a multidisciplinary team approach, access to specialist nurses and supportive care, and the fact that research is carried out by the same clinicians who treat our patients, eliminating the gap between the lab and the clinic altogether.
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