Locals are reluctant to take cancer screening tests due to fears of Covid-19 transmission and suspension of test services amid the epidemic, as a survey revealed only 26 to 44 percent of respondents underwent checkups or screenings this year despite the pandemic stabilizing.
The Hong Kong Anti-Cancer Society called on the government to resume scaled-down public cancer screening services and to send screening invitations to those elderly who are JoyYou Card holders.
The society surveyed 1,000 people and found that more than half of the respondents underwent fewer cancer screenings due to fear of catching a Covid
-19 infection in hospitals or public areas, while 34 percent only got screened after symptoms appeared. About 17 percent did not undergo screenings because clinics or hospitals did not provide it or required rescheduling.
"What we are seeing is that people are aware of the significance of screening tests but they are reluctant to return to checkups," said Rico Liu King-yin, executive committee member of the society.
At least 71 percent from the elderly group did not attend regular colonoscopies last year while half of all respondents failed to attend such tests this year.
As for patients with breast cancer, 44 percent from the elderly group did not undergo screening last year.
Lung, cancer and breast are the three most common cancers in Hong Kong, according to 2019 data from the Hospital Authority.
Prolonged delays in screening increases the death rates for colorectal, lung and breast cancer by 16, 9 and 5 percent respectively, according to a study cited by the society.
Cancer screening services have also shrunk in the past two years.
Screening services in at least 34 health centers were scaled down last year and 13 are still suspended as the authority adjusted non-emergency services amid the pandemic.
Liu called on the government to resume more service centers for cancer screening tests.
"Obviously, the local infection rate is close to zero. Make sure you perform hygiene and anti-Covid
measures. Screenings nowadays are safe."
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said there should be closer cooperation with organizations that conduct similar research as the society. She added that by prioritizing resource allocation, the authority could have a clearer picture as to how to care for cancer patients and survivors.
The government rolled out the breast cancer screening pilot program this September due to the rising rate of breast cancer, the most common cancer among women in the past decade.
Locals who wish to enroll in the program will first be assessed on their risk of developing breast cancer and undergo breast screening with an annual fee of HK$310.
Chan said the authority will collect more data from private hospitals in hopes of providing more holistic care for cancer patients and their families.