COVID-19 has impacted life in so many ways: our family life, our social life, our work life. We’re all limiting our interactions with others to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
But there is growing concern that people who have new or persistent health symptoms may be staying away from their doctor too. That is a worry in terms of cancer and it’s particularly relevant as New Zealand gradually emerges from another period of lockdown.
That’s why BCAC has joined forces with other cancer organisations across New Zealand to support the New Normal, Same Cancer movement. We urge anyone who is experiencing any unusual or persistent symptoms to contact their doctor and get checked.
During the initial lockdown in 2020 New Zealand saw a drop in cancer screening, biopsies, pathology tests and some surgery.1 Fear and anxiety around contracting COVID 19 also resulted in some Kiwis deferring medical attention for new symptoms or attending routine follow-up appointments.2
Diagnosis numbers improved as we moved out of the initial lockdown3, but lockdowns are again affecting our daily lives and we must remain vigilant while the pandemic is ongoing.
It’s natural to think that if we have a new symptom it will probably clear up on its own. That these things can wait. But that’s not the case with cancer. The earlier cancer is found and treated the better.4
While many symptoms may be due to something less serious than cancer, it is always better to be safe than sorry. While cancer is more common as we get older, it can develop at any age. 4
Libby Burgess, BCAC Chairperson, met with Humanise Health, who have collaborated with patient organisations here in New Zealand to create the New Normal, Same Cancer campaign. They talked about some of the challenges for breast cancer patients during the pandemic. Here’s what they discussed:
Regarding breast cancer, what were the most significant issues you saw through the COVID pandemic?
Libby: The pandemic has certainly slowed the rate of detection of cancers and the delivery of treatments as well. For anyone who has had their mammogram or screening delayed, make sure you get out there and book that appointment. Have your screening done because it is so important to detect breast cancer early—it gives us the very best chance of a cure.
What is your advice for those putting off seeing their doctor?
Libby: For anyone who detects a possible symptom, don’t hold back. Visit your GP and have it checked. During lockdowns, many doctors haven’t been able to encourage their patients to book follow-up appointments. If you’ve had a treatment delayed, get right onto those specialists, rebook your appointment and ensure you get what you need. It’s really empowering to take charge of your healthcare, especially while Covid is putting pressure on our health services, so do try to have your treatment as soon as possible.
What is your advice for those who feel ignored or brushed off after their initial appointment?
Libby: If you’re brushed off, be persistent. Be breast aware and take note of any changes. Get anything unusual checked right away because the sooner you know and the earlier you’re treated, the better the outcome. Unfortunately, many young women are at first brushed off when they see their GP with a symptom, because there is little recognition that young women are also at risk of breast cancer. But breast cancer can certainly occur in younger women and it is often more aggressive in these women. Whatever age you are, persist until you’re sure your changes or symptoms have been fully investigated.
So, if you have an unusual or persistent symptom…
Don’t wait. Contact your doctor. Get checked.
If you've had a screening, follow-up or treatment delayed…
Act now. Contact your medical team. Get a new appointment as soon as possible.
7 Oct 2021