UK could suffer 10,000 extra cancer deaths due to Covid pandemic

London researchers flag cancer as a rising health priority as Britain contains spread of coronavirus

Medics at work in an Intensive Care ward treating coronavirus patients at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey. Getty Images
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The UK may suffer 10,000 additional deaths from cancer as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, research has suggested.

The study, published by University College London, found cancer had become an increasing public health priority after vaccines and other measures continued to contain the spread of Covid-19.

The findings showed 40,000 late diagnoses of cancer due to a lack of emergency referrals by GPs and fewer face-to-face appointments.

Delays caused by lockdown could result in 10,000 people dying of cancer "significantly earlier" than would otherwise have been the case, the researchers estimated.

The UCL School of Pharmacy Cancer Policy Project polled more than 2,000 people and examined their attitude to cancer treatment on the National Health Service.

It found that online consultations with doctors have surged since the Covid-19 outbreak last year. Only 57 per cent of doctor consultations were now face-to-face, compared with 80 per cent pre-pandemic.

Many older patients were opposed to more telephone and computer consultations, with only 24 per cent in favour.

But among the 18 to 24 age group, 46 per cent wanted more online appointments, while 28 per cent were opposed.

Two in three people were worried about bothering their GP with what they deemed to be "minor health problems", the study found.

Three out of four people wanted to see innovative new technology, such as single blood tests for multiple forms of cancer, made available on the NHS.

The report found up to 40 per cent of people in Britain said their lives had changed because people important to them had been harmed by cancer.

Report co-author professor David Taylor, from UCL School of Pharmacy, said: "The immediate effect of the pandemic was to delay early diagnosis. Even before the pandemic, Britain's performance was not up there with the best of the world.

"There is some evidence to suggest every month treatment is delayed can increase the risk of early death by seven per cent. Some of it is about patients not presenting, worrying about being a burden on their GP, some of it is about access problems."

Co-author and cancer clinician Prof Mark Emberton said: "I strongly support the efforts being made to reawaken public awareness of the value of early cancer diagnosis and to encourage people to report unusual symptoms to their doctors, even if they seem minor.

"But there is only so much this can achieve without more investment in better diagnostic services and optimal access to effective new treatments for all stages of cancer. Our research should remind politicians that the UK public wants the NHS to be a global leader in cancer care."

Updated: September 21, 2021, 12:06 PM