4th February 2021

Why we need to go backwards this World Cancer Day

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We’re often told not to look back. We tend to have the belief that going backwards is a bad thing. Our goal must be to strive for more, to improve. This is the essence of World Cancer Day, a day dedicated to celebrate the progress we have made in the fight against cancer.

However, as it did with many things, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed this. Research had to pause with many undertaking the work drafted into emergency Covid teams, or required to work at home whilst juggling childcare and homeschooling. It was a necessity from this unprecedented attack on the global population.

Dr Rebecca Beeken from the University of Leeds explains how her research has been impacted by the pandemic:

“The impact has been notable and was felt particularly keenly because it was just starting and, as a pilot, it is a small project on a short timeline with limited resource.

The ethics committee to which the project had been submitted stopped reviewing projects for several months. There is only one staff member employed on the project and she has to juggle childcare during lockdowns. We were also looking to interview Diagnostic Radiographers, and as you might imagine, they have been overwhelmed. Lastly the plan had been for our researcher to travel to London to test our training within an ongoing screening trial there, and this became completely unfeasible.”

Dr. Rebecca Beeken

But now, as we approach a full year of restrictions, we must find a way to return to pre-Covid progress. We need to go backwards if we’re going to progress.

Before coronavirus even entered our consciousness and conversations, there had been much to celebrate in the world of lung cancer.

As a nation, we were spending more than ever before on lung cancer research. Curative treatments were happening more and more and becoming less invasive; in 2019 we saw an entire lung removed through keyhole surgery. More life-lengthening treatments are being approved for people with late stage lung cancer, and, most recently, NHS England began to implement the rollout of lung health check pilot programmes, taking us a step closer to a national lung cancer screening programme.

This has all contributed to an increase in lung cancer survival rates, most notably 10-year survival which has now doubled.

A very different landscape

During the first wave alone, the number of people urgently referred for further investigation and test dropped by 75%. At the time, the report but the UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) estimated there may be an additional 1,372 lung cancer deaths within five years of diagnosis due to the pandemic.

We clinicians are seeing similar late presentations of lung cancer to those that were the norm 20 years ago. With disruptions at an unprecedented level, lung cancer patients simply can’t afford to have the clock wound back to where things were.

David Baldwin, Chair of the Lung Cancer Clinical Expert Group

Since the UKLCC published its report, we have seen another wave and are currently living through a third and so fear this figure will only go one way. So, if ever there was a year where we needed World Cancer Day as a mechanism to shine the spotlight on cancer, it is this year.

The World Cancer Day, we’re reminding everyone that lung cancer is still here. We’re urging those with symptoms to go to their doctor. We’re supporting those through diagnosis and treatment and we’re funding research into early detection to save more lives.

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

“Today is World Cancer Day and an opportunity for everyone to refocus on cancer.

Covid may still be dominating our lives but we must remember than lung cancer is still here. It has not taken an obliging holiday whilst we get on top of the pandemic. The opposite in fact; lung cancer doesn’t care about coronavirus. Instead it is thriving on the anonymity Covid is giving, the shadow it is casting.

So, let’s make this World Cancer Day a turning point. Those with symptoms, it’s time to act. Contact your doctor today because the sooner lung cancer is diagnosed, the more treatment options you have and the better the prognosis.

Don’t let the pandemic stop you or your loved ones from getting diagnosed. The NHS is still here, it is open to those who need it. You are not a burden if you contact your GP. Lung cancer will not wait for the pandemic to be over so take that first step and contact your doctor.”

You can support our vital work by making a donation to our Emergency World Cancer Day appeal. Alternatively, you can take part in one of our virtual fundraising events or create your own.