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Delayed diagnoses and self-imposed lockdown: Australians living with cancer during Covid

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Two years of the pandemic have meant drops in essential screening and detection in Australia, while cancer patients undergo treatments alone and isolate to avoid Covid risks.

When Claire Simpson turned 50 in early 2020, she received a letter telling her to get a mammogram. Then the pandemic hit, and Victoria went into lockdown.

“Like many people, I put it off until we were coming out of that lockdown, but by then it was September and I couldn’t get an appointment until December,” she says.

In February 2021 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. Tests showed she was positive for the aggressive HER2 receptor, so she began 12 weeks of chemotherapy as well as a treatment called Herceptin, which she received an IV infusion of every three weeks.

Simpson says the delay in screening “really, really delayed diagnosis for me, by a good six months”.

“I can’t help but feel that [an earlier screening] could have probably saved me from having to have chemotherapy and this Herceptin infusion therapy that I’m having,” she says.

Her last Herceptin treatment was last Wednesday. She has been living in self-imposed lockdown, terrified as the Omicron wave built that she would have to isolate due to Covid and disrupt her treatment. That self-imposed isolation will continue until her final surgery, an elective operation scheduled for mid-year.

Cancer screening dropped by 10% in Victoria alone in the first year of the pandemic. In 2021, referrals to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, a leading treatment and research facility in Melbourne, were down 40%.

“That is certainly going to bounce back at some point,” says Prof Sherene Loi, an oncologist and researcher at Peter MacCallum. “It is potentially going to be a real problem in a few years’ time. At the moment we have a lot of very young cancer diagnoses, a lot of breast cancer … we are just flat chat.”

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Source: The Guardian, 13 February 2022

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