Delays in lung cancer diagnoses caused by the coronavirus pandemic may result in a drop of up to 5.3% in five-year survival, a new study suggests.
The UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) estimates the proportion of people living at least five years with lung cancer could drop from 17.6% (for patients diagnosed 2014 to 2018) to around 12.3% for those diagnosed during the pandemic.
Lung cancer referral rates saw significant decline throughout 2020 as people with a persistent cough followed the Government’s rules to ‘stay at home’. This, along with reluctance to engage with healthcare services during lockdown, and pressures on already over-burdened health services, may lead to more than 2,500 extra lung cancer deaths in the UK.
Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, comments:
Lung cancer patients have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, due to the overlapping of symptoms and in particular the persistent cough.
“For years, our message has been – if you have a persistent cough, you should contact your GP. Throughout the pandemic, we have been told to do the opposite and these devastating figures are beginning to show the true impact Covid-19 has had and continues to have on lung cancer.
“Urgent action must be taken to avoid the situation from getting any worse and allow us to restore the progress that had been made within early detection and longer-term survival of lung cancer prior to the pandemic.”
The charity has taken action itself, launching three awareness campaigns over the last 14 months, most recently the second phase of its Spot the Difference campaign for lung cancer awareness month.
“We know from recent studies that people often don’t feel the need, or feel validated, to go to their doctors with seemingly trivial symptoms. This was the case even before the pandemic,” Paula explains.
“What our Spot the Difference aims to do is highlight the subtle nature of lung cancer symptoms, substantiate these symptoms and urge those who are experiencing them to take action.”
In addition to the campaign, the charity is also supporting many of NHS England’s Targeted Lung Health Check programmes to raise awareness of the programmes to ensure as many people as possible take up the opportunity if invited.
“Targeted lung health checks are pivotal in the short- and long-term recovery of lung cancer. They not only give us the best chance to diagnose the disease at the earliest opportunity right now but can also provide the further evidence we need for a national lung cancer screening programme. Then, we will begin to witness real change.”