Urgent call to follow-up on bowel cancer diagnostic tests

Planning is urgently required for post-Covid-19 colonoscopy catch-up to avoid cancer progression according to the latest Bowel Cancer Australia `Covid-19 and the Impending Bowel Cancer Crisis’ report.

Highlighting the impact Covid-19 has had on diagnosing Australia’s second deadliest cancer, the report found colonoscopy waitlists existed prior to Covid-19 and have been further compounded by the pandemic.

Bowel Cancer Australia says that research published in the Lancet found that without catch-up screening, a six-month disruption will result in 1,961 additional deaths in Australia.

Furthermore, the organisation adds that a Cancer Australia report shows that between January and September 2020, the number of colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies performed to diagnose bowel cancers fell by 15% or 78,048 fewer procedures; in addition there were 216,537 fewer bowel cancer screening tests returned and 381 fewer bowel cancer surgeries.

Over the past 20 years bowel cancer incidence rates have decreased more than any other cancer. However, Bowel Cancer Australia says these improvements are now at risk.

The report highlights practical examples of solutions that have been implemented to address delays in diagnosing Australia’s second deadliest cancer due to colonoscopy backlogs.

“Delayed screening leads to a delayed diagnosis. Delayed diagnosis leads to delayed treatment. Delayed treatment leads to poorer outcomes. Put simply, delays can lead to unnecessary deaths and Covid-19 has made the situation even worse,” says Colorectal Surgeon and Bowel Cancer Australia Director Associate Professor Graham Newstead.

“Planning for post-pandemic colonoscopy catch-up and increasing ongoing capacity is urgently required as bowel cancer must not be forgotten in the long shadow of Covid-19,” adds Associate Professor Newstead.

“Early diagnosis is a key predictor of surviving bowel cancer and positive test results and symptoms need to be investigated via timely colonoscopy. It is imperative we address the colonoscopy waitlists, otherwise we risk undoing the gains made over the past 20 years.”

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