Australia, we aren’t being screened for some of our most common cancers. And it’s literally killing us.
A drop in cancer screenings during the pandemic is seeing a spike in delayed diagnosis and possible deadly outcomes, unless Australians take action and catch the deadly disease early.
It seems politicians have succeeded a little too much in telling us all to not “burden” the healthcare system, something we elected them to take care of at a time when healthcare workers were already rushed off their feet and non-essential surgeries were being pushed further back in the face of mounting Covid cases.
Throw in a new variant now, a lack of booster appointments (in some areas), cuts to Medicare, breast screening clinic closures, and unaffordable and MIA Rapid Antigen Tests and you would be forgiven for thinking that prostate or breast checks can be put on the back-burner for a few months.
Our most common cancers to add to your annual checklist
The most common cancers in Australia (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) are prostate, breast, colorectal (bowel), melanoma, and lung cancer, with the five cancers accounting for about 60 per cent of all cancers diagnosed in Australia.
Data from Cancer Australia shows there was an eight per cent drop in cancer diagnosis in 2020 compared to the previous year and 163,595 fewer diagnostic procedures carried out.
Clearly, we need to start prioritising cancer screening again.
Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer in Australia and has become one of the most undiagnosed cancers during the pandemic, following a 13 per cent drop in detected cases and more men being diagnosed at a later stage.
Nine men die of prostate cancer in Australia every day. So men are being urged to use January to get a simple PSA blood test which measures men’s levels of prostate-specific antigen, which can be an indicator of prostate cancer.
Anne Savage, CEO of Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, says every day in Australia, at least one man under the age of 50 is diagnosed with prostate cancer, although many people wrongly believe it’s an old man’s disease.
“It’s the most common cancer among Australian men, impacting 18,110 men each year through a diagnosis, and claiming the lives of 3,323 men,” Anne tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“And yet it’s a disease we don’t talk about often enough – few men know what the prostate does, even fewer know the guidelines for PSA testing, and confusion prevails about where to turn to for help. This year, PCFA will be expanding our services and support to reach those in need, and will be here to help all Australian men and families with access to clinical trials, specialist nursing, information, and support."
Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in women in Australia and the second most common cancer to cause death in women, after lung cancer.
Some states have seen a backlog in breast cancer screenings after many clinics were shut during lockdown and women are being reminded not to let their yearly breast check fall by the wayside and make a booking for a mammogram and ultrasound. A screening mammogram is recommended for all women aged 50 to 74.
Melanoma is in the spotlight - especially in the summer when more skin is exposed. Considered the most deadly form of skin cancer, Melanoma grows quickly and if left untreated, it can spread rapidly to other parts of the body including the lymphatic system and organs.
Early detection and treatment is essential, as explained by Melanoma Institute Australia Co-Medical Director Professor Georgina Long AO: “If caught early 90 percent of melanomas can be cured with surgery alone, but if left undetected, melanoma can quickly spread to organs including the lungs, liver and brain.”
But as a result of the pandemic, new patient referrals to the Melanoma Institute Australia have dropped to a 12-year low (down by 20 precent when compared to pre-pandemic rates in 2019).
A recent study out of Germany also found drinking alcohol can cause your skin to burn faster when exposed to the sun. We’re being reminded to keep an eye on moles to watch for any changes. Tattoos can also make it harder to identify any potentially dangerous skin lesions.
Bowel Cancer is the second most common cancer in the country. A change in bowel habits or abdominal pain or bloating could be an indicator.
A faecal occult blood test (FOBT) is a simple test that can be done at home and looks for hidden traces of blood in a bowel motion. The National Bowel Screening Program is free to all Australians aged 50-74 every two years, with test kits sent directly to your home.
Lung Cancer is still the fifth most common cancer in Australia accounting for nine percent of all cancers.
Anyone with a history of smoking or a family history of lung cancer is advised to talk to their GP about a CT or PET scan if you are experiencing shortness of breath or a persistent cough.
Cancer: Why it doesn’t have to be a death sentence
“The good news is that survival rates are high,” says Anne. “Especially if detected early, and there are five simple things people can do to achieve that goal.”
These tips can also help anyone looking to give themselves the best chance at beating all kinds of cancer.
Know your family history.
Understand your risk factors.
Talk to your GP about getting a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test or other cancer screening blood test.
Get a regular medical check-up.
If you experience symptoms, see a doctor straight away.
Where to find help:
The best thing you can do if you’re concerned about your or a loved one’s health, is to make an appointment with a GP ASAP.
With many clinics now offering Tele-health services, you may not even have to attend in person.
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