Diagnoses of cancer dropped substantially during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic as routine screenings were postponed by health boards and patients avoided going to the doctor for fear of contracting the virus.
Experts are now warning that unless immediate action is taken to encourage people to seek treatment if they suspect they have any signs of cancer or other potentially life-threatening conditions, we could be facing a potential tsunami in the number of cancer deaths.
This month It was announced that deaths from cancer in June outnumbered those from Covid by a ratio of more than four to one (563 to 131).
Target Ovarian Cancer’s report ‘Voices of women with ovarian cancer: the coronavirus pandemic and its impact’ published during lockdown heard from women who were worried about contacting their GP with symptoms, had had their treatment severely disrupted and were struggling with the mental and emotional effects of disruption to their care and being advised to shield.
The UK modelling research, published in The Lancet Oncology journal, suggests 3,291 to 3,621 lives could be lost to breast, colorectal, oesophageal, and lung cancer over next five years due to delays.
Another UK study has found that, for many cancers, delays to treatment of two to six months will lead to a substantial proportion of patients with early-stage tumours progressing from curable to incurable disease.
We therefore need to be doing everything we can to encourage people to contact their doctor if they notice a change that isn't normal for them or if they have any possible signs and symptoms of cancer.
Even if they are worried about what the symptom might be, or about getting coronavirus, they shouldn’t delay in seeing their GP. The symptom might not be due to cancer, but if it is, the earlier it's picked up the higher the chance of successful treatment.
Yes, doctors have been working harder than ever due to the pandemic, but they don’t want people fearing that they should not contact them about other health concerns.
Figures show that it is not only cancer diagnoses that have dropped during the pandemic, many other conditions are also going undetected, such as heart disease and diabetes. Also people already with these conditions are not seeking help when they need it. The Office for National Statistics (ONS), showed a significant increase in diabetes-related deaths in the community during lockdown.
Everyone is concerned about a second wave of coronavirus, and understandably so. Covid is a potentially deadly virus and it is right that we should remain focused on preventing further deaths as we return to normal live. However, we also need to keep our eye firmly on the ball when it comes to other conditions. Cancer, diabetes and heart disease prove just as much as a threat and the Welsh Health Minister needs to launch a public information campaign to encourage people to check themselves for signs of these conditions, and others, and to reassure people that they must seek treatment if they have any concerns.
He also needs to ensure that the backlog of diagnoses and commencement of treatments is also be tackled as a priority.
Cancer, and other illnesses, have not stopped because of Covid, I know some people will be anxious about burdening the NHS at this unprecedented time, but they cannot afford to put their life at risk. I therefore urge anyone with any health worries to pick up the phone today and make an appointment with your GP – it could save your life.