Women are being urged not to delay their mammograms after new data revealed a significant decline in breast cancer screenings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation Impact of COVID-19 Report, roughly 98 per cent of breast screening appointments during the 2020 lockdowns were cancelled or delayed, followed by the two-month closure of BreastScreen NSW during this year's Delta outbreak.
GenesisCare radiation oncologist specialising in breast cancer, Dr Katherine Neville, implores Hunter women to get their breasts checked.
"Due to ongoing state and national lockdowns, we have seen a drop in new cancer diagnoses over the last 18 months, and as a result we are beginning to see a rise in more complex cancer cases as patients present with later stage disease," Dr Neville said.
"For breast cancer in particular, early detection is critical to ensuring patients have the best chances of cure and can also impact the number and nature of treatments patients will require.
"BreastScreen NSW has been closed during the NSW COVID-19 outbreak however has recently opened. Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) is a great time for women to head to their local breast screen centre or bus to get their breasts checked or visit their local GP."
Cessnock resident Tracey Duncan, 51, was booked in for a mammogram with BreastScreen NSW in March 2020, but her appointment was cancelled due to the first wave of the pandemic.
It was only when she had her next appointment, some 14 months later, that her breast cancer was picked up.
"I was very lucky that my breast cancer was picked up early, despite the cancelled screening appointment last year, which meant that I could get a lumpectomy and a shorter course of chemotherapy," Ms Duncan said.
"However some women aren't as lucky and I want to encourage everyone to prioritise their breast health, self-check at home and visit their GP if they notice a bump or even just feel unwell."
A kindergarten teacher at Rutherford Public School, Ms Duncan has been off work since her diagnosis due to her compromised immune system, and has about two weeks of radiation treatment to go.
"I am really missing the kids... but there's light at the end of the tunnel. It's been a long five-to-six months," she said.
While going through cancer during the pandemic has been tough, Ms Duncan said her diagnosis has given her a new perspective on life.
"You come to appreciate different things and people, and the small things like walking the dog and seeing the sun rise," she said.