We live in incredibly sad times where the outbreak of coronavirus has led to the loss of thousands of lives. The focus has been on lives lost by those who have contracted the virus but little attention has been paid to the indirect impact on other significant health conditions such as cancer.

A recent UK study for the journal The Lancet Oncology, has predicted that for the four main types of cancer (breast, bowel, lung and oesophageal cancers), delays in diagnosis due to the Covid – 19 pandemic will result in 3,500 avoidable deaths. This is not accounting for the impact of delays in starting treatment or disruption of treatment for existing cancer patients.

One study published in April 2020 by DATA-CAN and the University of London estimated that the pandemic could result in an additional 6,270 deaths over the next 12 months in people newly diagnosed with cancer. This number rises to as estimated additional 17,915 additional deaths taking into account all people with cancer.

For people living with cancer during the pandemic, it has been frightening to have treatments, tests and appointments cancelled and disrupted and to feel abandoned within the health system. 

650,000 Cancer Patients have experienced disruption to treatment or care during pandemic

According to McMillan Cancer Support, 650,000 people with cancer in the UK have experienced disruption to their cancer treatment or care during the pandemic. For around 150,0000 this included delayed, rescheduled or cancelled treatment. 

As part of McMillan’s recent survey, out of the people who had responded to confirm they had tests or scans rescheduled, more than half said their healthcare team had made the decision either without their input or against their wishes.

We understand at the start of the pandemic the focus was on managing and prioritising patients under conditions of great uncertainty. Cancer Treatments and surgeries were postponed where possible. However, no formal quantification was carried out of the potential impact this would have across most major cancer types.

Following the first wave of covid-19 hospitalisations in March 2019, there has been a huge decline in referrals from primary care and substantial delays in diagnosis due to cessation of diagnostic services.

50,000.00 less people diagnosed with cancer in 2020

MacMillan estimates that across the UK, 50,000.00 less people have been diagnosed with cancer in 2020 compared to a similar time frame in years before. They predict in order to work through the diagnosis backlog it would take the NHS 20 months, assuming that activity was increased to 10% above pre-pandemic levels. In October it was estimated that the backlog was growing by almost 4,000 missing diagnoses every month. 

When normal services resume, charities fear that for some people their chance of survival will be deduced and the impact of longer waits for those who are not considered urgent will also cause cancer patients significant distress.

With cumulative knowledge we now have less uncertainty about risks and need to be more mindful of trade-offs and unintended consequences of delaying further treatment. Cancer doesn’t stop for Covid – 19 and neither can our health services. 

If you would like to talk to someone about a delay in diagnosis or cancer treatment and you are concerned that this has made a difference to your recovery, please contact James or Kirrin on 01271 533577.