Cancer fears for women following shock COVID data



Tens of thousands of Queensland women missed out on lifesaving breast and cervical cancer screenings in the early half of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The worrying data, released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, has sparked concern from Cancer Council Australia which highlights that regular screening can make the difference between a treatable, early diagnosis or a fight for life.

The AIHW report brings together data for January to June 2020 on the three national cancer screening programs-BreastScreen Australia, the National Cervical Screening Program, and the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. All screening was impacted by the coronavirus.

The Queensland data showed that in May 17,931 women had a mammogram and in June 17,623. This compares poorly with the 2018 data which shows 10,413 in May and $15,552 in June.

"Overall, there were around 145,000 fewer screening mammograms conducted by BreastScreen Australia in January to June 2020 compared with January to June 2018. Measures are in place to ensure people can catch up on their screening safely during COVID-19," AIHW's Richard Juckes said.



BreastScreen Australia services were paused in late March in response to the pandemic. Most services reopened within a month There are 260 locations in Queensland. Women aged 50 to 74 are advised to screen every two years.
The number of cervical screening tests was expected to drop in 2020 due to the National Cervical Screening Program changing from two-yearly to five-yearly screening but the drop in numbers during lockdown was more than expected. Fewer women would have been visiting their GP.

In Queensland in April 2018 23,891 women were screened and in April 2020 that number dropped to 6148.

"This decline is very concerning as it means there is a sizeable portion of women who are now overdue for screening," Megan Varlow, acting chief executive of Cancer Council Australia said

Ms Varlow said there were fewer bowel screening kits returned so far in 2020 than during the same January - July period last year.

"From January to July 2020, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program has sent over 2.1 million kits to Australians, yet fewer than 700,000 have been returned," she said.




Originally published as Cancer fears for women following shock COVID data