Preventing further delays in diagnosis and clinical treatment for breast cancer is a top priority for the Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network’s (VCCN) Breast Cancer Advisory Group, which was established under the Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Taskforce in late March 2020.

Data from Cancer Council Victoria and the Victorian Cancer Registry indicated a 37 percent drop in the number of Victorian breast cancer patients’ pathology results reported in April to May. This has sparked action from VCCN’s multidisciplinary team of experts, led by Director of Breast Services and surgeon at Monash Health, Dr Jane Fox.

“The first few months of the pandemic have raised lots of clinical challenges for breast cancer, including the temporary suspension of BreastScreen and treatment referral delays as Victorian women put off seeing their GP’s and stayed at home,” Dr Fox observed.

Doctors across the health system now fear extended lock-downs in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire will compound the situation.

To help minimise the impact of lock-down on people with breast cancer, the VCCN’s Breast Cancer Advisory Group is working with cancer care experts, community and government to communicate the importance of seeking medical care and attending routine appointments.

“Our advisory group has identified several priorities for the months ahead, including risk stratification for imaging services if imaging capacity is reduced due to the second wave of COVID-19,” said Heather Davis, Project Manager from the Southern Melbourne Integrated Cancer Service and Program Manager for the VCCN Breast Cancer Advisory Group.

“Different delivery methods of breast cancer treatment are currently being explored, including using oral and sub-cutaneous treatments that patients can administer independently or can receive in their homes,” Ms Davis commented.

“Precision oncology has also been identified as a potential way to improve the efficacy of breast cancer treatments, since molecular profiling assays can identify biomarkers in a patient’s genetic profile that indicate whether certain treatments are likely to be effective,” Ms Davis added.

“Communication is the cornerstone of our work, and we will endeavour to provide consistent, practical and implementable advice to our Victorian breast cancer workforce as the pandemic evolves,” said Dr Fox.

The advisory group collaborated with Cancer Council Victoria to publish a media release this July, highlighting the potential risks of delayed cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“Our message to the community is: don’t delay a visit to your doctor if you are concerned about cancer – because the more advanced the disease, the more likely it is to require more intensive treatment,” advised Dr Fox.