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Many Australians may have missed out on early diagnosis of cancer during 2020 due to a lack of screening and doctors visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cancer Council figures suggest.

Data released by the council’s Victorian branch shows a 30 per cent drop in certain diagnostic procedures being performed during the first six months of 2020 as well as an 18 per cent drop in treatments. In addition, figure suggest 10 per cent fewer cancer screening pathology tests were ordered between April and October 2020 compared to previous years. Modelling by the council suggests this could equate to up to 2,530 missed cancer diagnoses in Victoria alone.

COVID-19 has had a serious impact on proactive health screenings

It is likely that the problem extends far beyond Victoria. That means thousands of Australians may have potentially missed out on the opportunity for early detection and a cancer diagnosis, which could lead to the disease progressing past the chance of recovery. Some treatment options may no longer being available either and patients could experience worse outcomes, and ultimately premature death.

It is understandable why some people did not see their doctor when the pandemic first hit and the nation went into lockdown. We were advised to remain home to avoid contracting and spreading the coronavirus. Many medical procedures were also suspended. But patients should and must always continue to present to their doctor with any health concerns.

We have easier access to medical practitioners now more than ever – especially in remote locations – due to the evolution of telehealth consultations, which were revived during the pandemic. But patients should definitely attend in person if required.

Prioritise your health in 2021 and beyond

Cancer Council Victoria’s chief executive Todd Harper states: “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.”

Harper has encouraged all Australians to use the Victorian data as a reminder about what appointments or screens they may have missed in 2020 and book them in.

We have shared one of our many clients’ stories regarding the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of bowel cancer. Stories such as these should serve as a reminder to all Australians that if you have any medical concerns that have not resolved, you should get them reviewed as early as possible. An early diagnosis really does save lives because treatment can be more effective when cancer is detected early.

What to look out for

The Cancer Council suggests people keep an eye out for any unusual changes in their body and see your doctor immediately if you detect:

  • lumpiness or a thickened area in your breasts, any changes in the shape or colour of your breasts, unusual nipple discharge, a nipple that turns inwards (if it hasn’t always been that way) or any unusual pain
  • a lump in the neck, armpit or anywhere else in the body
  • sores or ulcers that don’t heal
  • coughs or hoarseness that won’t go away or coughing up blood
  • changes in toilet habits that last more than two weeks such as blood in a bowel motion
  • new moles or skin spots, or ones that have changed shape, size or colour, or that bleed
  • unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding, and/or
  • unexplained weight loss.


What to do if you experience a delay in diagnosis

If you have experienced a delay in the diagnosis of your cancer, you should get advice as soon as possible.

If you have suffered an injury as a result of unreasonable medical treatment, or delayed diagnosis, you can contact us for a confidential and free discussion. We can talk to you about your situation and whether you may be entitled to compensation.

We can help with medical negligence claims

Our team of expert medical negligence lawyers are here to help you understand your legal options and to achieve the best possible outcome for you.