21st April 2020

Cancer referral rates plummet in midst of coronavirus

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NHS bosses have revealed there has been a significant drop in cancer referrals since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cancer referrals have fallen by nearly 80 per cent in some areas of England and Wales and a 72% reduction in urgent suspected cancer referrals by doctors in Scotland.

A major report has found people are avoiding the health service for fear or catching COVID-19 or because they believe it is overburdened. The results are warning ministers not to “over-prioritise combating coronavirus at the expense of treating other critical conditions such as cancer”.

Paula Chadwick is the chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation:

“These latest statistics surrounding cancer referrals are incredibly worrying.

“We appreciate people are concerned about overloading the NHS, or about potentially catching coronavirus. However, it is important to go to your doctor if you are ill and especially if you are experiencing potential lung cancer symptoms.”

Around three quarters of lung cancer cases are diagnosed too late for curative treatment.

In 2018, the charity launched its Face your Fear campaign. It too urged people with symptoms to make an appointment with their GP after a report showed one in four are too scared to go to their doctor if they are displaying potential cancer symptoms.

Paula continues:

“Our Face your Fear campaign highlighted the pre-existing reluctance people have about going to their doctor with potential cancer symptoms – be it due to fear or being a ‘burden’. The current situation has magnified this and, as a result, we could see people lose their life, not directly from coronavirus but because of it.

Lung cancer does not care about coronavirus. It will not wait for the pandemic to be over, so if you are experiencing symptoms, please take the necessary precautions and go to your doctor.

“The early detection of lung cancer is the key to saving lives. At the minute, everyone is consumed by the pandemic. We can all see how stretched our incredible NHS is and no one wants to add to that unnecessarily. However, whilst the virus has put a stop to our normal everyday lives, it should not and stop people from seeking medical attention if they need it.”

The most common signs of lung cancer:

  • – A persistent cough, that lasts for three weeks or more
  • – Breathlessness
  • – Change in a long term cough, or a cough that gets worse
  • – Unexplained tiredness
  • – Repeat chest infections
  • – Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • – Back or shoulder pain
  • – Hoarseness
  • – Coughing up blood
  • – Clubbed fingers.

An NHS spokesman said: “The NHS is pulling out all the stops and staff are working around the clock to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, while at the same time ensuring that essential and urgent cancer diagnosis, treatment and care can continue.

There is capacity across the country and, if you have a cancer symptom, you should still contact your GP and be referred for further checks as normal so you can continue to access the services you need in as safe a way as possible.”