Beating bowel cancer together

Cancer care backlog affecting more than two million in the UK

More than two million people in the UK with cancer, or suspected of having types of the disease including bowel cancer, could be affected by disruption caused by coronavirus, new figures show.

Delays to cancer screening, and waits for further diagnostic tests and treatment is affecting around 2.4 million people, according to a new analysis by Cancer Research UK.

The disruption to cancer services caused by the pandemic also includes huge decreases in patients being urgently referred to hospital with suspected symptoms.

Delays to cancer screening have had the biggest impact on the total number, with a backlog of around 2.1 million people left waiting for breast, bowel and cervical screening. During this time, around 3,800 cancers would normally be diagnosed through screening.

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, says: “Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially when diagnosed early. The COVID-19 crisis has severely impacted screening for the disease, which may mean people of screening age whose bowel cancer goes undiagnosed may suffer worse outcomes as a result of a later diagnosis. These people are facing a double whammy with the pausing of screening and diagnostic services postponed as the NHS responds to the pandemic.

“Many of those who have already been diagnosed with bowel cancer are facing an agonising wait to find out when their treatment or surgery will resume and what the impact of the delay will mean for them.

“We understand there’s been unprecedented pressure on the NHS, and we’re doing everything we can to get things moving again, working closely with cancer specialists and the health service to do this as quickly and safely as possible.”

Urgent cancer referrals, often known as the two week wait, have been heavily impacted, with up to 290,000 people missing out on further testing, which would normally detect up to 20,300 cancers in the same time period.

Cancer Research UK estimates there will be a backlog of treatment to catch up on, with up to 12,750 fewer patients receiving surgery, 6,000 fewer for chemotherapy and 2,800 fewer receiving radiotherapy since lockdown began.

Safe spaces which are ‘COVID-protected’ will play a large part in addressing the growing backlog and ensuring more people can safely receive treatment or be diagnosed quickly. 

But this will only be possible if all cancer patients and healthcare staff – whether symptomatic or asymptomatic – are tested regularly for COVID-19.

The full Cancer Research UK news story can be read here.

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