In addition to deaths from the virus, there could be 18000 cancer deaths due to the repercussions that the Covid has on hospitals.
Research has found that there will be almost 18,000 more cancer deaths after Covid makes hospitals to suspend treatment and deterred them from seeking NHS care. Experts also claim that will be extra 6,270 people in England who have been newly diagnosed with the disease could die from it over the next 12 months as a direct result of the disruption caused by Covid-19 and the additional toll taking into account all those living with cancer could be 17,915.
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Covid: there could be 18,000 more cancer deaths
Macmillan Cancer Support described the findings as extremely worrying and said cancer should not become “the forgotten C” during the pandemic. NHS England has launched a campaign ordering people with symptoms of any potentially serious illness to seek help in the normal way by visiting A&E, a GP or dial 999. Urgent referrals by GPs for cancer tests have fallen by 76% and appointments for chemotherapy by 60% since the pandemic arrived in February. The health service hopes to resume cancer operations this week but faces a large backlog.
The new research, from University College London (UCL) and Data-Can, a health data research hub for cancer diagnosis and treatment in the UK, is the first to quantify the potential impact of the NHS delaying many forms of cancer treatment, including diagnostic tests and operations, and people not wanting to risk going into hospital in case they become infected. It is based on data from the health records of more than 3.5 million patients in England. While some of the projected additional deaths will be among people with cancer who contract Covid-19, others will occur because the diagnosis was late or treatment such as chemotherapy was delayed, the researchers conclude.
Dr Alvina Lai, a lead author of the study and a lecturer in health data analytics at UCL’s institute of health informatics said that the NHS should recognise patients affected as being particularly vulnerable and manage their care to reduce the risk to their health. Prof Peter Johnson, NHS England’s top cancer doctor said that people with possible signs of cancer who delay seeking care could face serious consequences. He said they should have symptoms such as a lump or new mole checked out as soon as possible. Patients can have cancer surgery at one of the NHS’s “Covid-free cancer hubs” already operating in 19 areas of England.
Almost eight in 10 of the extra fatalities will be people recently diagnosed with cancer who also have at least one other long-term illness, such as heart problems, high blood pressure, obesity or diabetes, the NHS-funded study concluded. Prof Mark Lawler, of Queen’s University Belfast and Data-Can’s scientific lead, said: “The results are concerning. We believe countries need to rapidly understand how the emergency is affecting cancer outcomes, otherwise, we risk adding cancer and other underlying health conditions to the escalating death toll of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Prof Harry Hemingway, a senior author and the director of UCL’s institute of health informatics, said that the overall impact of the Covid-19 emergency on deaths in cancer patients could be substantial. There are many factors operating here including rapid changes to diagnosis and treatment protocols, social distancing measures, changes in people’s behaviour in seeking medical attention and [the] economic impact of Covid-19, as well as deaths due to Covid-19 infection.
One patient with bowel cancer told the Guardian that he had a CT scan but his planned colonoscopy, a diagnostic procedure, at a hospital in south-west England had been postponed for an unspecified period because the hospital’s endoscopy department had closed until the Covid-19 crisis eases. Macmillan’s chief executive, Lynda Thomas, said: “This research shows the possible extent of the direct and collateral damage caused by this virus on the health of our nation and to the lives of people living with conditions like cancer. It’s extremely worrying that we are likely to see an increase in deaths of people newly diagnosed with cancer.”