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Late cancer diagnoses rise as NHS struggles with COVID-19

Analyses provided by UK cancer charity Macmillan has provided insights into the repercussions experienced by patients waiting to receive treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An estimated 50,000 patients have missed a diagnosis during the pandemic. Macmillan Cancer Support has warned that the number of women diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer is as much as 48% higher in some months due to COVID-19 disruption to NHS care. Late-stage diagnosis undermines chances of patient survival.

Macmillan’s analysis revealed that 47,300 fewer have been diagnosed with cancer in England over the past 18 months than what is usually expected. Fewer patients are being diagnosed with breast cancer at stage 1, while those responding well to treatment and living longer are statistically much higher. More than 24,000 patients who began treatment were made to wait too long after diagnosis.

This news arrives amid the discovery of the new coronavirus variant reaching the UK as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Europe as we approach the winter.

Macmillan polling also revealed that 25% diagnosed with cancer in the UK over the past two years, including an estimated 75,000 diagnosed since the start of the pandemic, missed out on specialist cancer nursing support. Among those recently diagnosed who did not receive enough support from a specialist care nurse during diagnosis or treatment, nearly 45% said this led to a significant impact on their treatment journey. Such impacts included being unsure about potential treatment side-effects, ending up in A&E and being unsure if they were taking their medication correctly. They were also 52% more likely to report cases of anxiety or depression.

Steve McIntosh, executive director of Advocacy and Communications at Macmillan Cancer Support stated: “The Government has promised an NHS Elective Recovery Plan. This must show how it will tackle spiralling pressures on cancer services. It has never been more crucial to boost NHS capacity to treat and support everybody with cancer, so people receive the critical care they need now and in the years to come.”