Covid-19: Dip in cancer diagnoses during lockdown appears to have 'resolved'
A dip in cancer diagnoses due to the Delta Covid-19 outbreak has “resolved” and was “considerably smaller and shorter-lived” than the disruption seen in 2020’s lockdown, new data shows.
Last month, Te Aho o Te Kahu (the Cancer Control Agency) stated there were 193 fewer cancer registrations in August – half of which the country spent in level 4 Covid-19 lockdown – compared with previous years.
But an update released on Thursday, looking at the disruption to cancer services in September, found the “dip” in registrations had come right.
Provisionally, there have been 241 more cancer registrations in September 2021 than in September 2018/19 – an increase of 12 per cent.
* Covid-19: Cancer diagnoses dipped during August level 4 lockdown
* Covid-19: Patient 'powerless' after DHBs told private hospitals to defer surgeries
* Cancer in NZ: Survival rates up, but inequities persist
The latest report states that while there was some disruption, most notably in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland), the overall impact of Covid-19 on cancer diagnoses was not as significant as during the 2020 lockdown.
And to date, Covid-19 does not appear to have increased inequities in access to cancer services for Māori.
All of New Zealand, except Auckland, moved to alert level 2 on September 8. Auckland remained at alert level 4 until 11.59pm on September 21, moving to level 3 – where it has remained.
This saw an initial decrease in new cancer diagnoses in August compared to August 2018/19 across all three Auckland DHBs, the report stated.
However, this increased in September, and there has been an overall increase in diagnoses for the year to date, compared with 2018/19.
Covid-19 did disrupt diagnostics services in both August and September. The number of gastrointestinal endoscopies across Auckland was down nine per cent in September compared to 2018/19 – a smaller decrease to the 31 per cent drop seen in August.
The decrease was smallest for Māori (1 per cent), compared to non-Māori/non-Pacific (10 per cent), but largest for Pacific peoples (20 per cent).
There was also a 13 per cent decrease in the number of bronchoscopies in September – contributing to a 5 per cent decrease for the year to date.
Curative cancer surgery, for prostate, lung and colorectal cancer, continued during September – and is in line with the number of procedures in 2018/19 and 2020, the report stated.
There was a 25 per cent increase in medical oncology first specialist assessments (FSA) this September compared with previous years, and attendances for IV chemotherapy and radiation oncology remained “stable”.
Health Minister Andrew Little said he was pleased by the numbers.
“I am pleased, but not surprised, that the latest lockdown has caused less disruption to cancer services than last year and that, in the words of the report, the health system is “learning how to safely deliver cancer services in the context of Covid-19.”
“The report's finding that the lockdown has not increased the inequity experienced by Māori cancer patients is especially welcome.”
Last week, Stuff reported that more than 43,700 FSA and follow-up appointments were deferred across the country in the first 10 weeks of lockdown.
Te Aho o Te Kahu chief executive, Professor Diana Sarfati said it is “encouraging there has been only a minimal impact on cancer services in Auckland to date”.
Sarfati urged cancer patients and their family who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 to do so “immediately”, as it is an important part of staying healthy.
Health Minister Andrew Little has been contacted for comment.