Coronavirus Pandemic: Alarming 60% decline in crucial prostate cancer testing
The CEO of Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) shines a spotlight on a worrying prostate cancer trend in light of the current COVID-19 threat and restrictions in Australia. Prof Jeff Dunn reports there has been a 60% reduction in important prostate cancer testing over March to April 2020, and he warns of a potential ‘tidal wave’ of diagnoses in 12 months time as a result.
“Latest data suggests Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood tests for prostate cancer have dropped by up to 60 per cent over the past eight weeks compared to the same time (May) last year,” Prof Dunn stated. Recommended regular PSA blood tests and other check-ups are essential in order to detect and monitor prostate cancer. Early diagnosis reduces risk of aggressive conditions and increases survival rates.
Prof Dunn emphasises that such tests and check-ups are “vitally important” for “men at risk of prostate cancer” and “is especially important for men with prostate cancer who are undergoing Active Surveillance or Watchful Waiting – where avoidance can be fatal.”
The Navigate trial is currently seeking men recently diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer and who are eligible for Active Surveillance. Mirroring the decreasing PSA testing trend, the research team has experienced a similar reduction of participants being recruited to Navigate, with a 70% drop in recruits in May 2020 compared to May 2019.
Recently appearing on ABC News and in the PCFA Blue Sky Horizons newsletter (May 2020), Prof Dunn talks more about this issue, which you can read below:
“Thousands of Australian men may be avoiding recommended blood tests and check-ups to detect and monitor prostate cancer, prompting our CEO Jeff Dunn to issue an urgent warning for men not to avoid their GP.” – PCFA, May 2020.
Read full story here. An extract of the article is provided below:
Australians are delaying lifesaving medical tests, as they heed the message to “stay at home” to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
That’s the message from doctors and advocates, who say the number of people attending specialist check-ups for cancer, diabetes and asthma — and even to report chest pains — has dropped dramatically since the pandemic began.
Jeff Dunn from the Prostate Cancer Foundation said there had been a massive decline in blood tests to detect prostate cancer, a condition which affects one in seven men by the age of 85.
He said the latest data showed a 60 per cent reduction in the number of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests over the past eight weeks, compared to the 12 months before.
“We are alarmed that thousands of Australian men are foregoing, or completely avoiding in some cases, recommended tests to monitor and treat prostate cancer,” Professor Dunn said.
Published on 14 May 2020 by medical reporter Sophie Scott and the Specialist Reporting Team’s Celina Edmonds, ABC News.
Watch the broadcasted ABC news report here:
A Media Release was also issued by PCFA which explains the problem in further detail:
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Men at risk of deadly diagnosis: Prostate cancer testing falls 60%
Thousands of Australian men may be foregoing recommended blood tests and check-ups to detect and monitor prostate cancer, prompting Australia’s peak body to issue an urgent warning for consumers to act.
Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia CEO, Professor Jeff Dunn AO, said a sharp drop in pathology testing nationwide was cause for serious concern.
“The latest data suggests Prostate Specific Antigen blood tests for prostate cancer have dropped by up to 60 per cent over the past eight weeks compared to the same time last year, mirroring a steep fall in pathology testing Australia-wide. Many men appear to have put off going to the doctor due to the threat of Coronavirus, with widespread confusion about social distancing recommendations and lockdowns.
“It’s vitally important that men at risk of prostate cancer get their regular check-up and any tests. This is especially important for men with prostate cancer who are undergoing Active Surveillance or Watchful Waiting – where avoidance can be fatal.”
About 211,000 Australian men are alive today after a diagnosis of prostate cancer, and 20,000 will be newly diagnosed this year.
“Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australian men. Sadly, only 36 per cent of prostate cancers diagnosed in Australia are detected at the earliest stage, when we can more effectively treat the disease, and tragically about 3,500 Australian men die of prostate cancer each year,” Prof Dunn said.
“Australia’s health care system could be hit by a tidal wave of disease in the next 12 months if the diagnosis of prostate cancer and other chronic illnesses is held back because of COVID-19.
“I urge all Australians to follow the advice of authorities and to take heed of the current protocols which permit routine check-ups and tests to proceed on the basis that all of us maintain social distancing, use personal protective equipment as necessary, and strictly follow personal hygiene protocols,” he said.
Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia CEO, Dr Debra Graves, urged men not to defer their routine pathology tests or ignore the warning signs of prostate cancer.
“We are concerned that the drop in the number of tests means men out there are not taking care of their health and could be creating significant risks of late diagnosis with aggressive conditions. Australian men can rest assured that pathology collection centres and healthcare providers have adopted strict procedures to ensure patient safety and I implore eligible men at high risk of prostate cancer to proceed with PSA testing in consultation with their GPs.”
The Australian guidelines recommend men over the age of 50 who have no family history of prostate cancer discuss the benefits and harms of PSA testing with a doctor before making the decision whether or not to be tested. Those who decide to undergo regular testing should be offered PSA testing every 2 years from age 50 to 69. Men with a family history of prostate cancer should talk to their doctor when they turn 40 and determine whether to undergo two-yearly testing based on their individual risk factors.
The pathology sector in Australia has seen a 40 per cent drop in routine pathology testing in recent weeks, with an estimated 60,000 Australians missing out on potentially life-saving tests. For more information about PSA Testing, go to http://psatesting.org.au/info/.
PCFA contact: Anne Savage, Head of Advocacy & Strategy
Published on 5 May 2020 by PCFA.
If you are reading this article before October 2020 and have recently been diagnosed with early-stage, low-risk prostate cancer, please consider joining our research trial www.navigateprostate.com.au to help navigate your treatment options.
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