First data on impact of the pandemic on 14 cancer types in 2020

Release Date

Cancer Australia today released a new report, The impact of COVID-19 on cancer-related medical services and procedures in Australia in 2020: Examination of MBS claims data for 2020, nationally and by jurisdiction, which shows an overall sustained reduction in cancer services in 2020.

In 2020 in Australia, there were 163,595 fewer cancer-related diagnostic procedures services for 14 cancer types (breast, colorectal, lung, prostate, melanoma, stomach, kidney, pancreatic, liver, uterine, ovarian, cervical, vaginal, and vulval cancer), or 8% less than expected.

“This report shows us the sustained impact of the pandemic by presenting the number of cancer-related diagnostic services and therapeutic procedures between January and December 2020, and how these compare to previous years,” said Professor Dorothy Keefe CEO Cancer Australia.

“Any potential delays in diagnoses and treatment in response to these reductions in services may lead to more cancers being diagnosed at a later stage and poorer outcomes for some patients.”

“It’s an important reminder that Cancer Won’t Wait, and we do encourage anyone with a symptom or new change in their body not to delay seeing their doctor to have it checked out. Most symptoms are due to something less serious than cancer, but if it is cancer, the earlier it is found, the better.”

Across all therapeutic procedures examined, there were 14,600 fewer services observed nationally when compared to the number of services expected for these cancer types (equating to 9% fewer services).

The reductions in services varied by cancer type. In 2020 there were 1,001 fewer services for breast cancer-related surgeries (e.g., excision of breast lesions and mastectomies), and 11,245 fewer surgical excisions for melanoma skin cancers.

The number of surgical and non-surgical cancer-related therapeutic procedures was between 6-14% lower for melanoma skin cancers and breast, pancreatic and gynaecological cancers (cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulval cancers combined) last year.

The number of diagnostic cancer-related procedures observed in 2020 was 6% to13% lower than expected for colorectal, liver, lung and prostate cancers, and stomach and pancreatic cancers combined.  For example, there were 87,293 fewer services in 2020 for colorectal cancer-related diagnostic procedures such as colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies.

An overview of the impacts to these services in 2020 is also provided for each state and territory.

Cancer Australia has developed an interactive body map which allows people to navigate their way to view symptoms of the most common cancers. This interactive body map shows symptoms of some of the most common cancers that can develop in different parts of the body.

The Cancer Won’t Wait video is translated in 10 languages. Act early for our Mob’s health provides tailored messaging for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to see their doctor or healthcare worker with any symptoms that may be due to cancer.