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SA cancer experts issue urgent plea about delaying cancer diagnosis during coronavirus

February 4, 2022, Adelaide, AUSTRALIA – This World Cancer Day, leading oncologists across the state are issuing an urgent plea to South Australians about the potential dangers of delaying cancer screening, testing or treatment due to coronavirus.

Oncologists fear that South Australians may be left undiagnosed, potentially leaving their cancer to be detected in later stages, which often require more complex lengthier treatment regimes. Throughout the course of the pandemic, in states such as Victoria and New South Wales there has been significant disruptions to patient care, redirection of critical resourcesclosure of essential screening services, and temporary halting of potentially life-saving clinical trials.

According to Associate Professor Rohit Joshi, Medical Oncologist at GenesisCare Adelaide: “We fear that South Australians may be missing out on early cancer diagnoses during the pandemic, and when we do come out of the current Omicron wave we could see an increase in later stage disease.”

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen a drop in new cancer cases due to the temporary closures of cancer screening programs and people generally feeling anxious about visiting their GP or a hospital,” said A/Prof Joshi.

“Early detection, screening and diagnosis have been proven to significant improve patient survival rates and quality of life and can significantly reduce the number of treatments required,” continued A/Prof Joshi.

“As clinicians, we want to provide our patients with best-practice integrated cancer care, so are urging all South Australians to be vigilant with their cancer screening, and visit their GP about concerning symptoms,” A/Prof Joshi said.

Adelaide local, Sonia McCabe, 50 y/o, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of November 2021, right before the Omicron outbreak in South Australia. Sonia, who does regular breast checks at home, was trying on a new gym top when she first noticed a lump on her breast. After discovering the lump she saw her GP almost immediately, who then referred her to her Breast Surgeon, Assoc Prof Bev Fosh and then to Medical Oncologist, A/Prof Dr Rohit Joshi.

“Undergoing chemotherapy during the current COVID-19 outbreak definitely comes with a lot of added anxiety and pressures, however I’m very lucky to have an incredible support network of family and friends who are very cognisant of keeping me safe,” said Ms McCabe.

“I’ve definitely been laying low and most of my friends complete a RAT before visiting me at home and I’m very lucky to have received my third booster as well.”

“It can be socially isolating and frustrating at times but I’m just so focused on doing everything I can to make sure I can continue with my chemotherapy.”

“I really encourage all women to prioritise their health, get themselves booked in for their screening appointments and really get to know their breasts at home. I know a lot of people are feeling anxious and may be hesitant to visit their doctor but early detection is so incredibly important,” said Ms McCabe.

According to a recent article published in Medical Journal of Australia Insight+, there is an urgent need for new integrated models of care to address more complex cancer cases due to the impact of ongoing national lockdowns.

In January 2022, GenesisCare launched a state-wide integrated cancer care service, in partnership with medical oncology provider, Adelaide Oncology & Haematology, to provide South Australians access to medical oncology, radiation therapy and surgical oncology in a co-ordinated patient focused care pathway.

The theme of this year’s World Cancer Day is “Closing the Care Gap” which is focused on raising awareness of the equity gap that affects many individuals and communities, potentially costing the lives of those impacted by cancer.

“Cancer patients have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 with profound long-term consequences on cancer care in Australia,” said A/Prof Joshi.

“Cancer doesn’t stop during COVID- and it is imperative that we continue to support cancer patients and provide them with timely access to care,” A/Prof Joshi said.