News National Cancer spike looms as Australians put off visiting their doctor
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Cancer spike looms as Australians put off visiting their doctor

Some cancer patients may have their treatment postponed if a second wave of coronavirus infections overwhelmed Australia's hospitals. Photo: Getty
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Many of Australia’s 150,000 cancer patients will be a lower priority to healthcare professionals compared to people infected with the coronavirus in the event of a second wave under a Federal Government plan.

The proposed framework, released by Cancer Australia on Friday, aims to help national healthcare systems manage the treatment of cancer patients during the coronavirus crisis.

Meanwhile, it raises concerns of a looming spike in cancer cases as Australians avoid regular health check-ups due to fear of contracting the virus or wasting their doctor’s time.

“If we consider a scenario of one in 10 people who might delay seeing their doctor with a cancer symptom for six months, we estimate that this year, potentially 7000 cancer cases could go undiagnosed, or at a later stage in Australia,” Cancer Australia CEO Dorothy Keefe told The New Daily.

Nearly 50,000 Australians died from cancer last year, with lung cancer the leading cause of death – and the fifth-most common diagnosis.

In 2020, an estimated 150,000 Australians will receive a gut-wrenching diagnosis from their doctor.

But there is only a limited number of beds and intensive care units available at our hospitals.

Our healthcare system would buckle if we experienced a sudden aggressive wave of coronavirus infections – and under a proposed government guide, some cancer patients would need to be temporarily sidelined.

“If the hospital system were overwhelmed by numbers of COVID-19 patients, with all ICU beds full and the emergency department and inpatient beds full, then cancer patients would be moved to other locations where they would be less likely to contract the infection and where their treatment could be safely managed,” Professor Keefe said.

“This would only happen if the number of COVID-19 cases had increased extremely rapidly and to a high peak.”

In some cases, non-urgent surgery or chemotherapy for patients with low risk of progression will be postponed.

But these changes wouldn’t affect every cancer patient.

No matter how packed hospitals are, some people will be given priority.

“Prioritising urgent situations such as acute leukaemia, curative treatments for aggressive disease, and adjuvant and neoadjuvant therapies,” the report reads.

“For example, in a patient with a diagnosis of aggressive cancer requiring surgery following a recent biopsy, surgery should proceed, despite ICU capacity being prioritised for COVID-19 patients.”

Smoking concerns

New research also released on Friday revealed smoking rates in our nation’s poorest areas are seven times higher than our richest, with the habit killing an estimated 19,000 Australians every year.

The research, from health policy thinktank Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, revealed Bridgewater and Gagebrook in Tasmania – two of Australia’s poorest areas – had the highest smoking rates in the country, with one in three adults smoking.

People with chronic illnesses linked to smoking such as cardiovascular disease are also at a higher risk of hospitalisation and death from COVID-19.