COVID-19 and cancer

Optimising cancer care during a pandemic

The Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network (VCCN) was established in March 2020 as a coordinated, real-time response to the challenges of managing cancer care in Victoria amid the global pandemic.

More than two years on, this collaborative entity continues to play an influential and functional role, supporting and advocating for workforce, and ensuring the concerns of healthcare practitioners and the needs of patients are heard by decision makers.

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Initiatives during 2021-22

In a year that saw higher numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Victoria than the previous two combined, the VCCN Taskforce and expert groups focused on three main issues: securing best possible care for patients affected by cancer; mitigating exceptional pressures on the workforce and health services, and communicating the growing concern around the snowballing numbers of ‘missing’ cancer cases in the community.

Key focus areas

  • Advocating for continuation of cancer surgeries during restrictions
  • Priority access to COVID-19 treatments for patients with cancer
  • Education and awareness regarding third dose/fourth booster vaccination advice
  • Workforce support and advocacy
  • Telehealth research
  • Advocating continuation of MBS support for telehealth consultations

Delayed cancer diagnoses now a significant men’s health issue

Throughout the pandemic, there has been a steady rise in ‘missing’ cancer cases. Data from the Victorian Cancer Registry indicates that these now number more than 7,000 in Victoria alone and men are disproportionately represented in these numbers.

In cancers common to both males and females, there are approximately 2,000 cases missing in men compared to around 100 in women. Together with the approximately 2,800 missing prostate cancer diagnoses, these figures represent a major and ongoing men’s health issue with significant ramifications in both the short and long term.

As time passes, the fear is that we will start to see evidence of stage migration as cancers that may have been picked up by screening at earlier stage have progressed, or people become symptomatic due to progression of disease.

As a VCCN collaborator, Cancer Council Victoria is leading the efforts to raise urgent awareness of this issue through new public education campaigns to urge a return to screening and regular health checks.

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