Screenings for breast cancer fell significantly during Australia’s first wave of coronavirus infections, according to a report published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) on Thursday.
The report found that the number of screening mammograms for breast cancer declined by 98.4 per cent between March and April as the virus spread rapidly throughout Australia.
“While more than 70,000 mammograms were performed in March 2020, this fell to around 1,100 in April.
By comparison, in April 2018, more than 74,000 mammograms were carried out.’’ AIHW spokesperson Richard Juckes said in a media release.
“Overall, there were around 145,000 fewer screening mammograms conducted by BreastScreen Australia in January to June 2020 compared with January to June 2018.
“Evidence shows early detection saves lives, so it is important people prioritise cancer screening. Measures are in place to ensure people can catch up on their screening safely during COVID-19.’’
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in Australia, accounting for approximately 14 per cent of all cancer diagnoses every year and more than 6 per cent of cancer-related deaths.
The report also found that there was a smaller decline in screening tests for cervical cancer while those for bowel cancer were unaffected by the pandemic.
“The National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme involves home test kits, sent to eligible participants who return them by mail.
“While this does not involve participants leaving their homes to complete the test, or to get their results, people do need to mail their completed test kit for laboratory testing,’’ Juckes said.
Ongoing monitoring will be important to better understand how the pandemic has affected Australians’ health now and into the future, he said.