The COVID 19 pandemic could have deadly consequences for bowel cancer patients.
Research has found that without catch-up screening, a six-month disruption in preventative procedures will lead to an additional 1961 deaths in Australia.
The research by Bowel Cancer Australia and published in the medical journal the Lancet, highlighted the impact the pandemic has had on diagnosing Australia’s second deadliest cancer.
Delays in getting through colonoscopy waitlists have been further compounded by the pandemic.
The Cancer Australia report showed between January and September last year, the number of colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies performed to diagnose bowel cancers fell by 15 per cent per cent, or 78,048 fewer procedures.
In addition there were 216,537 fewer bowel cancer screening tests returned and 381 fewer bowel cancer surgeries.
Kate Fitzgerald was diagnosed with bowel cancer during the height of the pandemic, while pregnant with her first child.
“I experienced bowel cancer symptoms. I presented multiple times to a variety of healthcare professionals with various symptoms including blood loss, rectal bleeding, fatigue, constipation, and diarrhoea only to have my symptoms continually dismissed as pregnancy related,” she said.
“On one occasion I can recall I was advised to eat more fibre.”
As the CEO of Emergency Management Victoria she was working long hours on the COVID response, but “knew something wasn’t right”.
“I eventually had a sigmoidoscopy and was diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer aged 37 and five months pregnant.”
“It was a very traumatic time, and I was anxious about the health of our baby in the lead up to her birth in March this year.”
“I want people to be aware that you are never too young for bowel cancer.
“If you have symptoms, then follow-up with your GP or healthcare professional and trust your instincts. Persist with doctors and ask the questions or seek referrals to specialists as you know your body best.”
Colorectal surgeon Graham Newstead AM said delays can lead to unnecessary deaths and COVID-19 had “made the situation even worse”.
Even a four-week delay in cancer treatment is associated with increased mortality.
“Early diagnosis is a key predictor of surviving bowel cancer and positive test results and symptoms need to be investigated via timely colonoscopy. It is imperative we address the colonoscopy waitlists, otherwise we risk undoing the gains made over the past 20 years,” Associate Professor Newstead said.
Australian Associated Press