Beating bowel cancer together

The latest coronavirus and bowel cancer updates

Friday 1 May

We’re closely monitoring the latest government and NHS updates and guidance to keep on top of how coronavirus is affecting the diagnosis and treatment of bowel cancer. We have weekly calls with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer and NHS England’s Cancer team, as well as ongoing relationships with similar partners in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so we’re amongst the first to receive the latest information as soon as it’s published. 

Some key themes we have seen and commented on this week include:

Latest advice on coronavirus for people with bowel cancer

We published the latest coronavirus advice from NHS England and the One Cancer Voice group of 19 cancer charities for people with cancer. One important update is that the shielding guidance for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be in place until at least the end of June. Previously the guidance was the advice would be in place for at least 12 weeks from the day you received your letter. If you’re concerned about the extension to shielding you might be interested in getting support from a Volunteer Responder. If you need some help with shopping, a prescription collection or a friendly chat then NHS Volunteer Responders are ready to help.

New NHS campaign to act on symptoms

This week the NHS launched their ‘Help us to help you’ campaign encouraging people to get help from the NHS if they need it during the response to coronavirus. 

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there’s been a drop in the number of people going to their GP with signs or symptoms that could be cancer. Across the UK urgent suspected cancer referrals are down by between 70-75%.

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS national clinical director for cancer, said: “From online consultations to the roll-out of cancer treatment hubs we are doing all we can to make sure patients receive the life-saving care that they need.

“The wishes of patients and their families will always come first, and we have to make sure that people feel safe coming to hospitals, but my message is clear: people should seek help as they always would.

“We know that finding cancer early gives us the best chance to cure it, and ignoring potential problems can have serious consequences now or in the future.”

We understand that people don’t want to burden the NHS at this time of crisis, or are worried about catching coronavirus by leaving the house, but if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer please contact your GP as soon as possible. 

The symptoms of bowel cancer can include bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo, a persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness for no obvious reason and a pain or lump in your tummy. 

COVID-free cancer hubs have also been set up to provide surgery along with independent sector hospitals. The hubs are up and running in 19 areas of the country to date, so people can have their operation safely with thousands of patients already having treatment through a hub.

New research suggests coronavirus pandemic could lead to 18,000 more cancer deaths in England

The coronavirus pandemic in England could result in at least 20% more deaths over the next 12 months in people who have been newly diagnosed with cancer, according to a new research study published by University College London in collaboration with DATA-CAN: The Health Data Research Hub for Cancer in the UK.

What we’re seeing here is the perfect storm created by the impact of coronavirus, both socially and as a disease, coupled with cancellations and delays to cancer diagnostic services and treatment which will lead to thousands of people losing their lives before their time. 

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, over 42,000 people are diagnosed with the disease every year, so the back log of patients will be substantial. There is no doubt that unless the NHS has the resources it needs, and a clear and robust plan in place, the effects on the diagnosis and treatment of cancer will be felt for years to come. Ensuring that a plan is in place will be key to our influencing and policy work going forwards.

Letter outlining the second phase of the NHS response

NHS England issued a letter outlining next steps to be taken in the second phase of the NHS response to COVID-19. The letter outlines the short term approach to return a range of services (including cancer and screening) to pre-pandemic levels of treatment and care, while acknowledging the challenge of COVID-19 will be with us for some time to come.

All throughout the pandemic, NHS England have issued guidance asking clinicians to maintain access to essential cancer surgery and treatments, unless they consider the risk for the patient outweighs the benefit in the current climate. We’ve produced information to help you navigate what that means in practice for you.  We have heard through our forum and Ask the Nurse service that what’s happening on the ground can often be very different to the guidance, so we’re feeding that back.

There is a strong emphasis on the need to develop and maintain capacity within hospitals to diagnose and treat cancer, and to develop the COVID-19 free cancer hubs that are being created across England.

The NHS want to see GP referrals for suspected cancers, diagnostics testing and cancer treatments brought back to pre-pandemic levels at the earliest opportunity.

Screening services need to be resumed as soon as possible for people at highest risk of bowel cancer. Diagnostic tests (including colonoscopies) need to be reintroduced safely to allow the backlog of people who currently have a positive bowel cancer screening test, or who have been referred by the GP with symptoms, to be cleared.

Further guidance will be developed by the NHS England cancer team to supplement the letter, as soon as that’s shared with us, we’ll let you know what it means for bowel cancer patients.

Changes to bowel cancer treatments available during the coronavirus pandemic

The National Institute of Care and Health Excellence (NICE) updated their rapid guidance on treating cancer during the coronavirus pandemic, which included new interim treatment regimens that can be used to treat bowel cancer patients. These are either changes to the way drugs are normally given for bowel cancer, or new drugs that are not yet approved by NICE that have been granted temporary permission to be used during the pandemic. Read more about the changes here.

We’re here for you

We’ll continue to monitor this fast moving situation, listen to your concerns and raise awareness. As always, our determination to support everyone affected by bowel cancer remains our top priority. Get the latest news and updates by following us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.


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