Delays in diagnosis and treatment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have serious implications for bowel cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
New Normal, Same Cancer is an international initiative developed in collaboration with leading patient organisations to encourage people to contact their healthcare professional, get checked, or re-book their missed medical appointments, to minimise the time between cancer diagnosis and treatment, from weeks to days.
It will be important to continue monitoring the long-term effects of delays during the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer screening and other health services such as timely access to colonoscopy.
Research shows a delay in cancer treatment by as few as four weeks may be sufficient to increase the risk of death by about 10%.
So, if you missed a medical appointment, received a positive test, are experiencing new symptoms, or your treatment was adjusted, now is the time to speak with your healthcare professional to ensure the best health outcomes possible.
Despite uncertainties due to COVID-19, early detection of bowel cancer cannot and should not stop.
During 2020, there were 65,367 (4.8%) fewer bowel cancer screening tests returned compared to 2019, despite an additional 395,742 (13.5%) tests being mailed. And at the height of the pandemic, there was a massive drop in colonoscopies by 57%.
During 2021, there were 45,105 (3.4%) fewer bowel cancer screening tests returned compared to 2019, despite an additional 370,452 (12.6%) tests being mailed.
If screening is delayed or missed, it is possible that a precancerous polyp may progress to cancer, or a cancer may develop to a stage that is more difficult to treat.
It is important delays in diagnosis and treatment are minimised to ensure the best health outcomes possible, as 99% of bowel cancer cases can be successfully treated when detected early.
Healthcare services have COVID-safe measures in place to ensure your safety.
The number of colonoscopies, sigmoidoscopies and polyp removal procedures performed in April 2020, was around half of those undertaken in March 2020.
- Colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies decreased 55% (from 56,048 in March to 25,454 in April); and
- Procedures to remove polyps which are associated with colonoscopy/sigmoidoscopy procedures also decreased 57% (from 25,509 in March to 10,896).
The number of investigations then increased in May and June but were still lower than for March 2020.
- Colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies were 36% and 15% lower with 35,957 and 47,508 services in May and June respectively.
- Polyp removal procedures were 34% lower and 11% lower with 16,726 and 22,683 services in May and June respectively.
The number of investigations had fully recovered by July and were slightly higher than those for March 2020.
- Colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies were 5% higher in July than March, with 58,634 services in July. The number of services in August and September (54,965 and 55,100, respectively), were similar to those for March.
- Polyp removal procedures were 12% higher in July than March, with 28,514 services in July. The number of services remained 6% higher in August and September (26,928 and 27,161, respectively) compared with March.
Comparing the total national number of services provided in 2020 to 2019, there were 11% fewer colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies which equates to 73,390 fewer procedures.
Comparing the total national number of services provided in 2021 to 2019, there were 1.3% fewer colonoscopies and sigmoidoscipies which equates to 8,620 fewer procedures.
Bowel cancer surgeries in May 2020 (883) were 16% lower than those recorded for March (1,056).
The number of bowel cancer surgeries increased in June 2020 (938), but were still 11% lower than for March 2020.
There was some recovery in the number of bowel cancer surgeries between June and September 2020 (ranging between 920 and 992) but this was still 10% lower than those for March.
The number of bowel cancer surgeries performed nationally in 2020 was approximately 3% lower than the number performed in 2019, equating to 376 fewer surgeries.
The number of bowel cancer surgeries performed nationally in 2021 was approximately 1% higher than the number performed in 2019, equating to 120 more surgeries.