My name is Todd Harper. I’m the CEO of Cancer Council Victoria.
Tony skinner 00:08
Right. Thank you very much, Todd. And this is the podcast channel for podcast my business. So thank you for joining us today, Todd.
Tony skinner 00:16
We had international tobacco day just a couple of days ago. And of course, we all know about the huge risks of tobacco, with cancers and so forth. And we just had an interview with Dr. White from Quit.org.au
Tony skinner 00:30
So what would be nice to have a chat about is the broader issues around cancer, and in particular, around COVID. And again, you’re in Victoria and you are having another lockdown, how’s that having an impact?
Yeah, look, it does have a significant impact. So most of us would prioritize our health regard that is important. And we all have the things that we do to prioritize around keeping healthy and protecting us from from harm. But what we find in times when we actually lose control over some of the things that are really important to our life, like we’ve seen with the COVID restrictions previously, and the COVID restrictions now is that our priorities in life shifted because of the environment that we’re in.
And it can be harder to prioritize the sorts of things that we might ordinarily see as important. And there’s a lot of other things that are going on in the time that potentially might be causing stress or anxiety, we might have additional caring or homeschooling responsibilities. So this can mean that our priorities shifted. And what we found during the COVID, lockdown in 2020, was that we saw a significant change in the health seeking behavior of people, particularly in relation to cancer.
So we had a much reduced amount of cancer pathology testing, for example, it was happening. So we did some modeling of the Victorian cancer registry. Between April and February in 2021, which we saw a significant drop about five and a half thousand fewer pathology tests for cancer were being conducted. And modeling that we’ve undertaken suggests that that means there were probably around two and a half thousand cancers which weren’t diagnosed, that we would ordinarily expect to be diagnosed.
So that was a particular concern. We have seen since the restrictions lifted last year that those numbers have improved, but there is still a significant backlog that we know hasn’t been addressed. So that’s a really a tangible and concerning implication of the way that people are delaying screening, not seeing the doctor for symptoms where they would normally seek medical help.
Tony skinner 02:56
So is that due to the lockdowns themselves imposing restrictions or people’s concern, all around about mixing and getting out and then potentially catching Coronavirus?
Yeah, look, it’s a really it’s a really good question. It wasn’t a question that was addressed by this survey. But I think what we can take from the results is probably it suggests a few things that are going on.
First of all, people don’t have the same control in their lives,they’ve got new priorities that they’re having to deal with. The other i think is there was a general nervousness, particularly in the early stages of the epidemic, where we saw COVID cases in hospitals, healthcare workers being diagnosed.
So there was a general nervousness about engaging with the healthcare system in the early days of the COVID epidemic in Australia. So I think there’s a few things that are going on another one that we experienced anecdotally, at least, was that people weren’t engaging with the healthcare profession, because they felt well, we’re in the middle of a co COVID epidemic, they’ve got more important issues than me to worry about.
And of course, that’s the last thing we want people to be thinking. So it was probably a few things that were going on, but that wasn’t specifically addressed by this study.
Tony skinner 04:21
Okay, so what would it be? I guess COVID attacks the lungs and the body that way? How does it interact with other undiagnosed or diagnosed cancers?
Yeah, it’s a good question. And we know that it is particularly important for people with cancer but also other chronic diseases, to have their COVID vaccination because the implications for many cancer patients are more severe, if they also contract COVID. So we’ve been encouraging people to make sure you get vaccinated. In the early days of the epidemic.
Of course, we all saw that there were higher rates of mortality amongst patients with diabetes, heart disease, and, and of course, cancer. So it’s one of those things that we’re really encouraging people to do, make sure if you’re eligible, you take up the opportunity to receive a COVID vaccination.
If you are concerned about your particular circumstances, then by all means, reach out to your doctor and talk to them. But when it comes to cancer, we’re very much urging people. If you’re eligible, make sure you have your COVID vaccination.
Tony skinner 05:37
Yeah, I had my first shot like last week. So I’m quite fortunate to have that. So what are the odds actually catching cancer versus catching COVID.
So we know that about one in two of us will experience cancer over our lifetime. So it’s a significant issue for for many of us, of course, the difficulty with COVID is that we sometimes confuse what would happen if we’d done nothing, versus what actually happened. So fortunately, because of a good work that we’ve seen in Australia, there has been very little COVID.
So very little harm from COVID, certainly not some compared to other places like the US, UK, India, etc. So that’s something important and it’s always a challenge in public health. So if we take the example of smoking, we’ve been really successful in driving down smoking levels in in Australia. However, if we’ve done nothing, you know, this the outcomes would have been so much worse in terms of lung cancer, heart disease, a range of other cancers, etc. So I think it’s really important to focus on prevention wherever we can.
But it’s, we often find that prevention doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, because people aren’t if people aren’t diagnosed with a condition because of the prevention or public health measures that have been put in place, then they’re not to know that they are healthy because of those measures that were enacted. So it’s always a challenge we find with public health in that way.
Tony skinner 07:27
Yeah, exactly. So what are some tips of avoiding or lifestyle changes that help to avoid you from catching a cancer?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a really good question. And I think it’s, it’s one of the most important things to be thinking about. So we know that about a third of all of cancers, can be prevented by the knowledge that we have today. So it’s things like quitting smoking, as we’ve talked about being physically active, eating a diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, reducing process and, and those types of meats. But one of the things that we also encourage people to do is to think about their their alcohol consumption.
The Cancer Council recently did a survey which showed that people weren’t aware of the links between alcohol and cancer. So it’s not top of my knowledge for many people use for example, in this survey, it identified that only 18% of people believe that alcohol causes breast cancer and about one in four people believe that alcohol caused mouth and throat cancer.
So I think that shows a real knowledge gap, that there are really important and impactful things that we can be doing every day to reduce cancer risk, that our knowledge perhaps isn’t as great as it could be pretty good in relation to smoking, I think they’re probably less so about reducing alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy body while being physically active fruit and vegetables and of course, reducing UV exposure, particularly during the warmer months.
Tony skinner 09:16
Thank you for mentioning that because it’s going to ask about those that survey about baking and baking can do all these sorts of things and hence it well. I like bacon also gonna have a bacon sandwich so you don’t have to stop eating.
So look, I think it’s everything in in moderation and trying to as much as possible have that healthy diet. The other really important thing I think that we should be focused on and this is something that people should be doing, wherever possible is participating in cancer screening programs, bowel cancer, cervical cancer, and when and breast screening of course, we know that some of those were impacted by the pandemic.
If we take the case of bowel cancer, for example, it’s responsible for the second Most deaths of all of the cancers. And yet, only about 40% of people participate in the free at home screening when that kit is delivered to people’s home. So we’re really focused on increasing that participation. Because if people do the test, it’s more likely to be able to prevent a bowel cancer or detect it early when more treatment options are available.
Tony skinner 10:25
Yeah, I think that’s the lesson if something is seems wrong, go find out get it checked. Yeah.
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, even in the middle of a pandemic, it’s important wherever we can to prioritize our health, and not put off those really important health decisions that we might make in ordinary circumstances. Because often getting in early, taking early action is what opens up better treatment outcomes for us down the track.
Tony skinner 10:56
Fantastic. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Tony skinner 10:59
No, I think that’s, that’s covered a lot of it. Thank you, Tony. Thank you very much. And that’s Todd Harper, CEO of Cancer. Council Victoria. And thank you