Cancer care and recovery during COVID-19

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Cancer Australia

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March this year, it was understood that people with compromised immune systems or pre-existing medical conditions, including cancer, were at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and increased risk of more severe infection. As the lead national government agency for cancer control, it was important Cancer Australia act quickly to provide up-to-date, evidence-based information, resources and guidance for health professionals and all Australians affected by cancer.

Since April, an Information about cancer and COVID-19 website hub was launched, providing advice for people affected by cancer, a library of the latest resource articles and clinical guidance for health professionals, a conceptual framework for management of cancer in a pandemic, a report on COVID-19 recovery implications for cancer care and data analyses demonstrating the impact of COVID-19 on cancer services.

Cancer Australia created a social media awareness campaign targeting all Australian adults. Cancer Won’t Wait encourages people of all ages to see their health professional with any new or persistent symptoms that could be cancer during the pandemic. It highlights the importance of the three national screening programs in the early detection of breast, bowel and cervical cancers. Cancer won’t wait is also being translated into 10 languages. Supporting this campaign are interactive body maps that shows symptoms of some of the most common cancers that can develop in different parts of the body.

Information on cancer and COVID-19 was developed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as Professor Gail Garvey, a proud Kamilaroi woman and member of Cancer Australia’s Leadership Group on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cancer Control stated, “Having cancer can be a stressful situation, made more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s really important for our Mob that we take particular care of ourselves, stay isolated as much as possible, especially if you are 50 or over and have one or more chronic conditions, and practise social distancing and good hygiene.”

Two reports were developed for health professionals. The firstCancer care in the time of COVID-19: A conceptual framework for the management of cancer during a pandemic  uses published data and guidance to explore system wide approaches to cancer management and the secondCOVID-19 Recovery: Implications for cancer care studies the impact of changes to cancer care and identify practices and strategies to support high value cancer care to patients in the future.

“We have seen unprecedented changes in cancer care across the patient’s care pathway and in many parts of the oncology sector. Some of these new or modified healthcare practices will be of long-term value in improving quality and resilience in cancer care,” said Cancer Australia CEO Professor Dorothy Keefe.

 In a landmark report, Review of the impact of COVID-19 on medical services and procedures in Australia utilising MBS data: Skin, breast and colorectal cancers, and telehealth services Cancer Australia noted that between April and June 2020, about a third of GP consultations were conducted via telehealth with the vast majority of those conducted via telephone.

Cancer Australia conducted a further analysis of a range of services reimbursed through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) between January and June 2020 to understand where reductions in cancer-related services have occurred, and the types of services affected. The second report Review of the impact of COVID-19 on medical services and procedures in Australia utilising MBS data: Lung and prostate cancers was published in November.

Shaped by the needs of the community and what we have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cancer Australia is committed to deliver informed and effective cancer control and ultimately better outcomes for all people affected by cancer in Australia.

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