Cancer groups tell Aussies to see their GP

Australians are being urged to get a doctor's check-up after cancer diagnostic procedures plummeted.
Australians are being urged to get a doctor's check-up after cancer diagnostic procedures plummeted.

When Sydney teenager Anais' tummy pain persisted last year, her mother took her to see a doctor.

Although there were several misdiagnoses along the way, it was the beginning of uncovering two cancerous tumours - one 23cm in size - on her left and right ovaries in November.

"She looked like she was six months' pregnant," said mother Isabelle, who doesn't want her surname published to protect her 14-year-old daughter's privacy.

"The second time around at emergency we got the right diagnosis and the right doctor.

"It was like being in a different galaxy from one day to the other. It was completely overwhelming."

Despite the shock of her child's diagnosis, the good news was they caught it early.

Doctors are confident in Anais' long-term recovery prospects, declaring the bout of stage one cancer "highly curable" as she starts chemotherapy.

"There are no other masses anywhere," said the mother of three, who is originally from Belgium and now lives in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

"It's highly manageable and again - thank God for our instinct that something was wrong."

It's that intuition that Isabelle and nine of Australia's top cancer groups want the public to follow after the COVID-19 pandemic saw diagnostic procedure rates plummet in 2020.

To coincide with Thursday's World Cancer Day, the groups have launched the "New Normal. Same Cancer" campaign to implore Australians not to delay check-ups for any new symptoms - no matter how mild.

Cancer Australia figures show there were 149,000 fewer cancer diagnostic procedures for breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancers from January to September last year, compared to the same nine-month period in 2019.

The campaign seeks to reverse the potential tide of complacency, with some 150,000 Australians expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2021.

"Despite the ongoing shockwaves of the pandemic, the risk of cancer has never slowed," it says.

"The call to action is clear: Don't wait, contact your doctor, get checked."

Ovarian Cancer Australia, one of the nine affiliated bodies, noted that monitoring for symptoms was especially important with no early detection test for that type of cancer.

Isabelle believes coronavirus could have meant her daughter was left waiting even longer for answers, and doesn't wish that anguish on anyone.

"In a way, being diagnosed in the second part of COVID has been a godsend," she said.

"If it had have been March or April, all the consultations were online with a GP. They would not have seen my daughter face to face with a bloated tummy.

"The timing was definitely better for us."

CANCER DIAGNOSTIC PROCEDURE DROP-OFF FROM JAN-SEP 2019 TO JAN-SEP 2020

* 17,509 fewer diagnostic procedures for breast cancer

* 78,048 fewer diagnostic procedures for bowel cancer

* 961 fewer diagnostic procedures for lung cancer

* 52,544 fewer diagnostic procedures for prostate cancer

* 34,268 fewer non-surgical and surgical procedures for skin cancers other than melanoma and melanoma skin cancers

Source: Cancer Australia

Australian Associated Press