Leading Hunter New England doctors urge women not to delay life-saving breast cancer screenings

New data reveals huge drop off in breast screenings and surgeries due to COVID-19

To coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, leading breast specialists from across the Hunter New England health district are urging women not to delay vital breast screening appointments and to prioritise their breast health.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation Impact of COVID-19 Report, during the 2020 lockdowns roughly 98% of breast screening appointments were cancelled or delayed, followed by the complete closure of Breast Screen NSW in August 2021 for two months.

In addition to the significant decline in breast screening appointments, there has been a 10-30% drop in diagnostic and investigational surgeries, including biopsies, mastectomies and lumpectomies in the first wave of COVID-19. A surgical delay of 12 weeks could result in 500 more breast cancer deaths per year.1

GenesisCare Radiation Oncologist specialising in breast cancer, Dr Katherine Neville, said: “Due to ongoing state and national lockdowns, we have seen a drop in new cancer diagnoses over the last 18 months, and as a result we are beginning to see a rise in more complex cancer cases as patients present with later stage disease.”

“For breast cancer in particular, early detection is critical to ensuring patients have the best chances of cure and can also impact the number and nature of treatments patients will require.”

Tracey Duncan, a 51 y/o Kindergarten teacher from Cessnock, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the height of the NSW COVID-19 outbreak this year and is currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Tracey had a breast screen appointment cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 and it was only when Tracey had her next appointment, a whole twelve months later, that her breast cancer was picked up.

“I was very lucky that my breast cancer was picked up early, despite the cancelled screening appointment last year, which meant that I could get a lumpectomy and a shorter course of chemotherapy.”

“However some women aren’t as lucky and I want to encourage everyone to prioritise their breast health, self-check at home and visit their GP if they notice a bump or even just feel unwell,” said Ms Duncan.

“BreastScreen NSW has been closed during the NSW COVID-19 outbreak however has recently opened. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a great time for women to head to their local breast screen centre or bus to get their breasts checked or visit their local GP,” said Dr Neville.

Later this year, local breast cancer patients from across the Hunter New England Health District will benefit from a new specialist integrated cancer centre in Maitland run by GenesisCare. The centre is an extension of the radiation oncology cancer service at the Hunter Cancer Centre in Gateshead and patients will be seen by the same specialist team of doctors.

The new integrated cancer centre will offer breast cancer patients access to radiation therapy, medical oncology, sophisticated imaging, pathology, and allied health services in one custom-built space.

Free breast screen clinics are available at East Maitland Bowling Club, Beresfield Bowling Club, Waratah NBN Telethon Mater Institute and Singleton Sisters of Mercy Nursing Home. Women can call 13 20 50 or visit Breast Screen NSW and book their appointment online.

  1. National Breast Cancer Foundation, The Impact of COVID-19: On Australia’s Path Of Progress Towards Zero Deaths From Breast Cancer, accessed 5th October 2021, https://1o2l7w1aqqrk1f987e40vzis-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/FINAL15583_NBCF_COVIDResearchImpactReport_FA_Web.pdf

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