Almost 18,000 more people with cancer are expected to die over the next 12 months than pre-pandemic estimates suggested, researchers at University College London and Health Data Research UK said on Wednesday.
Cancer treatment, testing and screening has been severely disrupted as the country moved to free up 10s of thousands of hospital beds to treat coronavius patients. At the same time, many people who have medical concerns have avoided going to hospitals. That’s led government and health officials in recent days to appeal to people to go to hospital if they have concerns about their health, such as chest pains or symptoms they believe could be linked to cancer.
“We have got the facilities to treat people,” Professor Peter Johnson, National Clinical Director for Cancer, said in a BBC interview Wednesday. “Cancer can be a much bigger danger than coronavirus, and we much rather see people when cancer is at an early stage.”
The study, using data from the U.K.’s main cancer treatment centers, found that both treatments and diagnoses had fallen since March. Referrals for people with suspected cancers from doctors fell 76%, while chemotherapy appointments fell 60% compared with pre-pandemic levels.
“The overall impact of the COVID-19 emergency on deaths in cancer patients could be substantial,” Professor Harry Hemingway said in the report. “There are many factors operating here including rapid changes to diagnosis and treatment protocols, social distancing measures, changes in people’s behavior in seeking medical attention and the economic impact of COVID-19, as well as deaths due to COVID-19 infection.”
This week, the country’s health service said it will restart cancer care and mental health services that were sidelined to stop hospitals being overwhelmed by the pandemic.