COVID-19 and the Impact on Cancer Diagnoses

It is no secret that the last 18 months have been difficult for us all with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting our global community and specifically the UK enduring numerous lockdowns from March 2020.

The COVID-19 outbreak has greatly affected the UK’s economy, education, and travel industry but specifically it has put immense pressure onto our healthcare services. The NHS has and continues to go above and beyond to care for patients during these difficult times and remains dedicated and focused, which we should continue to recognise. However, with the rise of COVID-19 patients in hospitals the NHS has been chronically understaffed and overworked, which has unfortunately caused a huge impact on cancer diagnosis, referrals, and treatment.

As of June 2020, MacMillan Cancer Support estimates that nearly 50,000 cancer diagnoses have been missed during the COVID-19 outbreak with 650,000 cancer patients suffering disruption or delays in their treatment, a number which is still rising today with an ever-increasing backlog of cancer treatments. MacMillan Cancer Support is referring to those suffering as the forgotten ‘C’ and is calling on the government to acknowledge the scale of the cancer backlog and commit the additional resources required to tackle it.

Early diagnosis is critical to increasing the chances of survival and treatment is more likely to be successful before the cancer has had chance to spread. Below are some examples of how an early diagnosis can really make a difference.

Early Diagnosis of Bowel Cancer

In England, more than nine in 10 bowel cancer patients survive the disease for five years or more, if diagnosed at the earliest stage.

Early Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

Almost all women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage survive their disease for at least five years.

Early Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer

More than nine in 10 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer at its earliest stage survive their disease for at least five years. This falls to just over one in 10 women when ovarian cancer is diagnosed at the most advanced stage.

Early Diagnosis of Lung Cancer

Almost nine in 10 lung cancer patients will survive their disease for at least a year if diagnosed at the earliest stage. This falls to around one in five people when lung cancer is diagnosed at the most advanced stage.

Cancer Research UK conducted a survey of cancer patients early in the pandemic (1 – 28 May 2020) to understand their perspectives on the initial impact COVID-19 was having on their testing, treatment and care. Some key findings include:

  • Around one in three (34%) cancer patients reported that their testing had been impacted since the start of the pandemic.

  • Almost one in three (29%) cancer patients reported that their treatment had been impacted since the start of the pandemic.

  • Cancer patients who experienced delays and cancellations reported waiting on average 13.4 weeks for tests and 13.5 weeks for treatment.

In January 2019 the NHS Long Term Plan (LTP) was published and set out stretching ambitions and commitment to improve cancer outcomes and services in England over the next ten years. Their key ambitions state that by 2028, 55,000 more people each year will survive their cancer for five years or more and 75% of people with cancer will be diagnosed at an early stage (stage one or two). There is hope for our future, but this does not take away the significant delays in treatment and diagnoses that patients faced in 2020/2021.

Lanyon Bowdler Solicitors support clients daily in pursing clinical negligence claims relating to delayed diagnosis and/or treatment, some of which are sadly fatal claims. If you would like to investigate the care you or a loved one received, please feel free to contact a member of our clinical negligence team.  In our latest podcast episode, Beth Heath and Katherine Jones from our clinical negligence team talk about the delay in diagnosis of cancer, using fictitious, but typical cases to illustrate the challenges people are facing.

For additional information from MacMillan Cancer Support regarding their findings of missed cancer diagnoses, please click here.

To receive more information about early diagnosis, visit Be Clear on Cancer - a campaign that aims to improve early diagnosis of cancer by raising public awareness of signs and/or symptoms of cancer, and to encourage people to see their GP without delay.