50,000 patients feared to have missed cancer diagnosis during pandemic

Cancer timebomb: 50,000 patients are feared to have missed out on diagnosis during Covid pandemic, study shows

  • Around 50,000 patients missed cancer diagnosis during pandemic, study says 
  • Charity Macmillan claims the figure proves that the NHS is struggling to catch up
  •  NHS insists cancer diagnosis and treatment figures back to pre-pandemic levels

The NHS faces a cancer timebomb because an estimated 50,000 patients have missed out on a diagnosis during the pandemic, a study has revealed. 

Macmillan Cancer Support warned that the health service is ill-equipped to deal with the backlog. 

The charity’s analysis revealed 47,000 fewer people have been diagnosed with cancer in England over the past 18 months than would usually be expected. 

And more than 24,000 who did begin treatment were made to wait too long after diagnosis. 

Macmillan said the figures demonstrate that the NHS is already struggling to keep up with the current number of cancer cases.  It said it is ‘deeply concerned’ about how services will cope when the ‘missing’ patients do come forward. 

A study by Macmillan Cancer Support claims that around 50,000 patients have missed out on a diagnosis during the pandemic

Steven McIntosh of Macmillan said: ‘Nearly two years into the pandemic, there is still a mountain of almost 50,000 people who are missing a cancer diagnosis.’ 

The NHS said: ‘Cancer diagnosis and treatment numbers have been back at pre-pandemic levels since the spring.’

Macmillan said the NHS made some progress tackling the cancer backlog over summer but this already appears to have stalled.

It fears a rise in Covid cases over winter will cause further disruption to cancer services and see the number of missing diagnoses climb further.

Prostate cancer has seen the biggest fall in diagnoses, with confirmed cases in England down by almost a quarter (23 per cent) compared with pre-Covid expectations.

The next most affected cancer types are multiple myeloma (down 14 per cent), melanoma (13 per cent), lymphoid leukaemia (12 per cent) and breast cancer (12 per cent).

Macmillan is particularly concerned about breast cancer diagnoses as figures show women are being diagnosed at a later stage, when the disease is harder to treat.

The number being diagnosed early – at stage one or two – has been below pre-pandemic levels, while the number being diagnosed at late stage four has been above average.

Ellen Lang, service manager on the Macmillan Support Line, said: ‘We’re taking an increasing number of calls from people who need help or advice after experiencing a delay to their diagnosis because of issues related to Covid-19 or because they can’t get through to their clinical team to get any of the questions they have answered.

‘People are often incredibly distressed about how delays are affecting their prognosis or treatment options, with many feeling like their survival chances are being impacted by the enormous pressures on the NHS.’

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