Breast cancer symptoms must not be ignored during COVID-19

cancer patient and supporter
4 May 2020 | Cancer

Breast cancer doctors from the Royal Women’s Hospital are urging people with any signs or symptoms of the disease to seek medical advice from a GP or hospital without hesitation.

The message comes as the shared Breast Service at the Women’s and Royal Melbourne Hospital has experienced a 33% drop in appointments at the breast clinic and 25% reduction in surgeries from the same time last year, causing concern for clinicians who fear that breast cancer is going untreated.  

Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) has seen an increased number of calls to its Helpline recently from women saying they are too nervous to go into a hospital or clinic to seek care.

Professor Bruce Mann, Director of the Breast Service, said seeing a healthcare professional for a lump or any changes in your breast is critical – and the Service is fully prepared to see patients.

“When a person finds a lump or sees changes in their breast, assessments and tests are key to finding out whether it’s benign or whether it’s a tumour that could be aggressive and quickly become harder to treat. These assessments need to be done urgently to give women, and men, the best chance of recovery,” says Professor Mann.

“The dip in numbers that we’re experiencing indicates people out there are likely to be ignoring symptoms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have heard similar reports from colleagues at other centres. This could be because some people do not want to put pressure on the health system or they may be afraid of going to a health service for fear they will contract the virus.

“We want to be very clear that GP surgeries, Radiology providers and hospitals around Australia are safe. Stringent measures are in place to ensure we can continue to provide excellent and safe care to our patients.

“The Women’s Breast Service has the capacity, and it’s easier than ever for GPs to make those referrals with the improvements we have made during this pandemic.”

BCNA Chief Executive Officer, Kirsten Pilatti, says, “We know women will often put their health last. Today, my message to all women is if you notice any change in your breast at all, get it checked. This is one reason we do want you to leave the house.”