Australia reports concerning drop in prostate cancer testing
As in many COVID-19 affected countries, the pandemic has placed Australia’s healthcare system under immense pressure and resulted in substantial impacts on people’s health-seeking behaviours.
Many are still reluctant to visit medical settings for health advice for fear of being exposed to the virus, and several forms of non-critical medical appointments and procedures have been put on hold or significantly delayed. For example, the number of cancer-related diagnostic and therapeutic procedures was 8 per cent lower than expected in 2020, with reductions seen across 14 cancer types, including breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing, in particular, dropped by 10 per cent in Australia during 2020, due to the impact of the pandemic and lockdown measures.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among Australian men, with the nation’s rates of the disease among the highest in the world. Critically, early detection of prostate cancer widens the available treatment options to men diagnosed with the disease and helps to improve long-term outcomes.
PSA tests are available to all Australian men aged 50+ years (or 40+ years for those with a family history of prostate cancer) to screen for prostate cancer, regardless of the presence of symptoms. It is currently the best and most widely accessible test for detecting and diagnosing prostate cancer, as well as monitoring treatment outcomes.
Concerningly, the reductions in PSA testing witnessed in Australia could result in potentially life-threatening delays in diagnoses or cancer progression. In fact, the number of men diagnosed with high or very high-risk prostate cancer that had already spread beyond the prostate increased to 38 per cent in 2020, up four per cent since 2017.
Treatment for prostate cancer depends on the stage of the disease, the severity of symptoms, the location of the tumour/s, and a person’s general health, and is determined by the treating clinician in consultation with their patient. Options may include radiation (such as low dose rate brachytherapy or external radiation), surgery and/or hormone therapy.
Once prostate cancer has spread beyond the prostate, it may still be managed with treatment, however the five-year survival rate is substantially reduced compared to early-stage diagnoses, as therapy options become more limited.
It is therefore critical Aussie men aged 50+ years do not delay speaking to their GP about getting a PSA test to ensure early detection of prostate cancer and broaden available treatment options.
To learn more about PSA testing, signs and symptoms of prostate cancer, and different treatment options, head to Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.