50,000 cancer patients ‘yet to be diagnosed’

Up to 50,000 people are living with undiagnosed cancers as a result of the disruption to health services caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is according to a new report by Macmillan Cancer Support.

The charity has also said dealing with the virus has led to a “backlog of undiagnosed cancer,” which could take 18 months to combat in England alone.

It also warned that next year could see double this number if cancer referrals and screening can’t catch up.

Without cancer screening and diagnosis recovering to normal levels before the pandemic, Macmillan said a further 4,000 people will miss out on being diagnosed every month in the UK.

Cancer care backlog

Macmillan also found that the pandemic has led to an estimated 33,000 people across the UK not starting cancer treatment when they should have. It added that a best-case situation will see the NHS take almost 18 months to clear this backlog across England and Wales.

According to the report, the backlog has been caused by people not seeing their GPs, as well as disruption to appointments, operations and treatments during the first wave of the pandemic.

The charity said it is calling on health secretary Matt Hancock to prevent the numbers of people in the cancer care backlog “spiralling” by ensuring that cancer services will not be deprioritised during winter pressures and the second Covid-19 wave.

NHS resources

Lynda Thomas, Macmillan Cancer Support chief executive, said: “Cancer doesn’t stop for Covid-19 and neither can our health services. Macmillan is doing whatever it takes to support people with cancer and our exhausted NHS staff, but we need more.

“Governments need to promise every person with cancer that they won’t be forgotten and ensure cancer services are protected, come what may.”

Her organisation is urging governments across the UK to ringfence staff and resources for cancer care this winter. Macmillan is calling for the prevention of cancer beds, nurses and doctors being redeployed to deal with the pandemic, as well as guaranteeing access to Covid-19 testing and the necessary PPE.

It has also called for the government to produce plans for cancer services’ recovery, detailing how the NHS will get the resources it needs to meet the winter’s increased demand.

Treatment delays

In summer this year, a Macmillan survey found that 650,000 people with cancer had experienced disruption to their treatment as a result of Covid-19. This included tests or treatment being delayed or cancelled altogether for roughly 150,000 patients.

Of those people, 57% reported being worried that these treatment delays would affect their survival chances.

A further 90,000 people with cancer said they had experienced symptoms of the disease getting worse or returning but had not told their doctor as they were afraid of catching the virus or adding to the pressures faced by the NHS.


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