4th November 2020

What does a second lockdown mean for lung cancer?

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It was the news that no one wanted but tomorrow, England enters into a second lockdown. We look at what this means to those living with lung cancer, and those with potential symptoms.

For years, the advice about a persistent cough was ‘see your doctor’. For the last eight months, we have heard the complete opposite message as those with a cough were told to stay at home. As a result, lung cancer referrals dropped by a staggering 75%, meaning many people are living unbeknown with the disease.

As non-essential shops, restaurants, bars and gyms shut their doors again, we must remember the same rule is not applied to GP surgeries as Dr Helen Piercy, a locum GP in West Lancashire, explains:

It’s always been ok – even when the whole country was in lockdown – to visit your GP. What we need you to do first is phone for an appointment, and you would be assessed first of all, and then you would be invited in if you need to be seen face to face.

In addition to the Government’s stay at home messages, fear was another contributing factor to preventing people from seeing their doctors. People were worried about catching coronavirus and so, instead of seeking help when they might have done in normal times, they sat on their symptoms. Doctors surgeries, however, have implemented numerous safety precautions to reduce a person’s risks of contracting the virus. Dr Piercy continues:

“At the practices that I work at, patients are screened for coronavirus symptoms before they are allowed to be seen in the surgery. The doors are usually locked, so the only people who come in, wearing a mask, are those who have an appointment. They then have their temperature checked and gel their hands. We also have a one-way system around the GP surgery to maintain social distancing.

When I see a patient, I am wearing full personal protective equipment. Then, when that appointment is over and the patient leaves, it is my my responsibility to then clean down the clinical room. I then put on fresh PPE before seeing the next patients.

I appreciate people are concerned about coronavirus and also about ‘burdening’ the NHS as we tackle the second wave of infections, but the bottom line is, if you are unwell, your GP wants to hear from you.”

Getting treatment during lockdown

Whilst some lung cancer patients did see their treatments paused due to the risk of infection, hospitals did their best to maintain lung cancer treatment services during the first lockdown and peak of the pandemic. In some cases, patients switched to Covid-friendly treatments whilst others received treatment in cancer hubs or designated areas of the hospital.

As we enter a second lockdown, we hope the first wave has helped hospitals and cancer teams better equipped to deal with the second wave. David Gilligan, consultant oncologist specialising in the treatment of lung cancer, believes so:

“As we enter the second lockdown, we now have gained a massive amount of experience in looking after people with Covid. We have processes and safety measures already in place to allow the safe treatment of Covid patients without having to make the radical shut down of the NHS that was anticipated with the first wave.”

If you are currently receiving treatment for lung cancer and have concerns about your treatment, you need to contact your healthcare team, as Gill who has stage 4 lung cancer, explains:

“I started my treatment during the first lockdown. It was an incredibly anxious time, made more difficult by the lack of face-to-face chats with my nurse or doctors. If coronavirus hadn’t happened, I would have had regular sit downs with my lung cancer nurse. I would have had the chance to ask any questions. Instead, I presumed they were too busy, or simply unable to talk to me, so I tried to manage on my own.

It was only when I spoke to Elizabeth through Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s Keep in Touch service that I phone my nurse. Elizabeth reassured me it was ok for me to call them and I’m so glad I did. I got the questions I had answered. It was a great relief and it’s so important that people don’t try and manage this on their own, especially at the minute.”

There’s no denying that things will remain difficult for the foreseeable future and the NHS will be under immense pressure, but lung cancer is still here, and it won’t wait for the pandemic to be over. We need to find a way to ensure everyone receives the help, support and treatment that they need as we embark on the next phase of these unprecedented times.

It has been an incredibly difficult year and it is likely to be an even tougher winter. But whatever happens, one thing remains certain, we at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation will do everything we can to support those living with lung cancer and those with potential symptoms. We are still here, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure those with lung cancer are too.