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COVID-19 delivers difficult times for blood cancer patients – and more challenges lay ahead

Thursday May 28, 2020

The Leukaemia Foundation has more than doubled the support of people living with blood cancer since COVID-19 hit Australian shores and is warning of more difficult times ahead.

Today, on World Blood Cancer Day, the Leukaemia Foundation is concerned Australia is also about to face a spike in diagnosis rates as post COVID-19 after-effects start to appear.

Leukaemia Foundation General Manager – People Living With Blood Cancer Kathryn Huntley said recent reports had shown around half the usual number of Australians had visited the GP or pathology services during the height of the pandemic. Cancer diagnosis rates have also seen a drastic drop[1].

“Sadly, it’s unrealistic to think Australians have stopped getting blood cancer. Blood cancer never stops – not even through a pandemic,” Ms Huntley said.

“We expect there to be a sudden spike in blood cancer cases and all of those Australians will need access to health services and support from organisations like the Leukaemia Foundation.

“Our Blood Cancer Support Coordinators have seen increased demand for supportive care as those Australians already diagnosed with blood cancer continue to ride the roller coaster of COVID-19.

“They are trying to adapt to the changing health service landscape while managing anxiety due to their increased susceptibility to the disease because of compromised immune systems,” she said.

“We are urging Australians not to postpone trips to their GP or specialist and to address any health concerns immediately.”

Ms Huntley said the symptoms of blood cancer could sometimes be subtle or similar to other conditions such as a virus. However, ongoing symptoms like recurrent infections, increased fatigue or bruising or enlarged lymph nodes should be immediately discussed with your GP.

She said early diagnosis could play a key role in surviving blood cancer – particularly more aggressive types.

The Leukaemia Foundation has been adapting its services to support the Australian blood cancer community, utilising telehealth and conducting Patient Support Groups through virtual webinars and chat rooms, all to help patients navigate new pathways through COVID-19 restrictions. It has also been increasing access to information and responding to a huge jump in website traffic.

Ms Huntley said Australians living with a blood cancer could continue relying on the Leukaemia Foundation to guide them from diagnosis through treatment and towards a life of living well with and after cancer.

“We will work hand-in-hand with the Australian blood cancer community to ensure that all Australians who are diagnosed with blood cancer have access to the right information, treatment and supportive care whenever they need it most.”

“Australians who have blood cancer are particularly susceptible to COVID-19. These are still dangerous times for them and we urge Australians to please continue to practice self-distancing and strict hand hygiene and help to protect our most vulnerable. We also encourage all Australians to download the COVID-19 app to continue to help Australia to minimise further spread of the virus.”

Australians who contract COVID-19 while fighting blood cancer are also more likely to die from the pandemic, with recent UK research suggesting patients with blood cancers are at a higher risk of death if they contract the virus (6-11 per cent)[2]. The fatality rate in people living with blood cancer with COVID-19 is also the highest amongst all cancer patients (33 per cent)[3].

There are 110,000 Australians living with blood cancer, and currently, 41 Australians are newly diagnosed every day.  Sadly 20 lives are lost to the disease each day.

The Leukaemia Foundation’s State of the Nation: Blood Cancer in Australia report projects that these numbers will more than double by 2035. Prevalence of blood cancer will sky-rocket to 275,000 and 100 people are to be diagnosed with the disease and over 40 people lose their life to blood cancer every day.[4]

In light of the Blood Cancer in Australia report, Federal Minister for Health, The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, supported the Leukaemia Foundation to establish Australia’s first Blood Cancer Taskforce.

The Taskforce is now working towards delivering Australia’s first National Strategic Action Plan for Blood Cancer which will provide a blueprint to tackle key issues facing people affected by blood cancer, today and into the future. The National Action Plan is due for release later this year.

If you or someone you know is diagnosed with blood cancer and would like support, please contact a Leukaemia Foundation Blood Cancer Support Coordinator on 1800 620 420 or visit www.leukaemia.org.au.

– ENDS –

[1] Recent reports show that in April alone, visits to the GP dropped by 50 per cent https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/drastic-drops-in-cancer-and-heart-attack-patients  – a statistic that was mirrored by a 50 percent drop in referrals to pathology services at GP and community clinics https://pathologytechnology.org.au/resources/Documents/Position%20Paper%20-%20COVID-19%20Continuity%20of%20care%20April%20%202020.pdfOpen this document with ReadSpeaker docReader
[2] Wenhua Liang,Weijie Guan,Ruchong Chen et al. Cancer patients in SARS-CoV-2 infection: a nationwide analysis in China. The Lancet Oncology Mar 2020 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(20)30096-6
[3] Hui Li, Liang Liu, Dingyu Zhang et al. SARS-CoV-2 and viral sepsis: observations and hypotheses. The Lancet. Published online April 17, 2020 https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30920-X
[4] http://www.leukaemia.org.au/how-we-can-help/advocacy-and-policy/state-of-the-nation-my-life-counts/state-of-the-nation-download/

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