There are increasing concerns that people are not accessing the medical care they need due to the fear of infection during the Covid19 pandemic and the repurposing of NHS services.
It is of significant concern that cancer patients and those with possible early signs of cancer are not seeking the help they require. The repurposing of the NHS to deal with Covid19 has also resulted in delays to referrals and in some cases surgery.
This will result in a rise in cancer deaths in the forthcoming years.
The British Society of Gastroenterology also recommends that no endoscopic procedures, which are used to screen for bowel/colorectal cancer, can be performed for at least the next 3 months.
The research was published in the European Journal of Cancer.
Professor Mark Lawler is the Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Digital Health at Queen’s University Belfast and Scientific Lead at DATA-CAN, the UK Health Data Research Hub for Cancer.
Professor Lawler who is the Senior Author on the paper said:
“We are already seeing the indirect effects of the COVID-19 crisis on cancer care.
“Urgent referral numbers are dropping, endoscopies and other surgical procedures are being postponed and many cancer specialists are being redirected to COVID-19 specific care.
“If we don’t act, we risk the unintended consequence of the current COVID019 pandemic precipitating a future cancer epidemic.”
The research also highlights that as more people are worrying about the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, less people are seeking advice on new symptoms of a possible cancer, including abnormal bleeding or new lumps on the body.
Professor Eduard Vrdoljak of the Department of Oncology, Clinical Hospital Centre Split, and the University of Split, Croatia who is also Lead Author on the paper said:
“I am extremely worried. We are experiencing significant challenges.
“People’s fear of attending any health facility, coupled with their minds being more focused towards COVID-19 symptoms, mean that they may down-play rectal or bladder bleeding, a lump in the breast or other signs of cancer that otherwise would lead them immediately to consult their doctor.
“We are starting to see people who may be at risk of developing cancer fearing a COVID-19 diagnosis more than a cancer diagnosis.”
The researchers have pointed out that widespread media coverage of Covid19 and with public health measures focused on the virus that there is:
“little or no consideration for the impact of control measures on increasing morbidity and mortality in cancer, or indeed any other health condition,” Professor Richard Sullivan, Director of the Institute of Cancer Policy, King’s College London
Professor Lawler warns that people who suspect that they have cancer symptoms must continue to access the NHS.
“Cancer must be firmly in our cross wires, so that we avoid adding the lost lives of cancer patients to the COVID-19 death toll.”
Any person concerned about symptoms should call their existing cancer treatment helpline or the national Cancer Treatment Helpline on 0800 917 7711.
Download: Cancer Patient Information Leaflet