Beating bowel cancer together

Every month that cancer treatment is delayed can raise risk of death by around 10%

Thursday 5 November 2020

People whose treatment for cancer is delayed by even one month have a six to 13% higher risk of dying – a risk that keeps rising the longer their treatment does not begin – suggests research published in The BMJ today (Thursday 5 November).

Canadian and UK researchers found there was a significant impact on people’s mortality if their treatment was delayed, whether that be surgical, systemic therapy (such as chemotherapy), or radiotherapy for seven types of cancer, including bowel cancer.

The results showed that a treatment delay of four weeks was associated with an increase in the risk of death.

The need for better understanding of the impact of treatment delay on outcomes has come into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many countries have experienced delays or cancelled surgery and radiotherapy, as well as reductions in the use of systemic therapies. Health systems have also redirected resources to preparing for the pandemic, leading to staff shortages in essential areas including cancer services.

Last month our Chief Executive Genevieve Edwards wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, to raise concerns about cancer services being impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and to seek guarantees that diagnostics, screening and treatment will continue in a protected environment as the pandemic continues into the future

And our Director of Research and External Affairs Dr Lisa Wilde has also highlighted that: “The COVID-19 crisis has led to many people with bowel cancer having their treatment delayed or cancelled. Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer in the UK, and we’re extremely concerned that we will see a further increase in deaths from the disease as a result of delays to treatment.

“But as the authors rightly acknowledge, while these delays can increase the risk of death, many other factors are also at play, including underlying health conditions patients may have. This is not a ‘one size fits all’ issue and it’s essential that patients get the tailored treatment and support they need.

“We are desperate to ensure that bowel cancer patients do not become the forgotten casualties of COVID-19, and have called for assurances from all four nations of the UK that bowel cancer diagnostics and treatments will be preserved.”

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