Delays in routine cancer care due to COVID19 have health professionals on high alert for a variety of service challenges predicted to arise in coming months.

Since March, referrals from GP’s for cancer screening have reduced by 20-30% a startling fact given over 35,000 Victorians are diagnosed with cancer each year. Further data indicates the number of referrals to hospitals for cancer care is significantly lower than last year.

In Victoria, cancer hospitals have reported a 40 per cent decline in patient presentations for cancer management appointments since the stay-at-home guidelines were released. These trends have raised concern among oncology health professionals about the health and wellbeing of vulnerable cancer patients whose health outcomes are likely to be negatively affected.

“Delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment have profound implications for cancer patients,” said Dr Andrew Haydon, Medical Oncologist at Alfred Health and co-Chair of the Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network (VCCN).

“Early detection offers the best chance of successful treatment. Delays may ultimately cost lives,” Dr Haydon observed.

Victoria’s cancer services are concerned that the lull of referrals and disruptions to cancer treatments between March to June, will be replaced with a spike in demand over coming months. Screening and diagnostic pathology services, surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy are all predicted to be affected.

“We know that delays to cancer care will result in excess healthcare costs and unnecessary mortalities,” commented Professor Maaten IJzerman, Head of Cancer Services Research at the University of Melbourne.

“Further service modelling based on existing data will assist us to identify where the greatest impact is likely to occur,” Professor IJzerman added.

“This information will allow health providers to develop patient prioritisation frameworks, and ensure that those with the greatest risk factors are the first attended to,” said Dr Haydon.

COVID-19 should not prevent anyone from accessing cancer care. It is safe to receive medical care in any setting in Australia, but it is not safe to delay a potential cancer diagnosis and treatment.