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More than two million in backlog for cancer care

Around 2.4 million people in the UK are waiting for cancer screening, tests or treatment because of disruptions to the NHS, according to new analysis by Cancer Research UK.

Covid-19 has impacted all areas of cancer services, from screening to diagnosis to treatment.

An estimated 2.1 million people have missed out on screening over the past 10 weeks. In usual circumstances, 3,800 cancers would be diagnosed over this period of time through screening.

A further 290,000 people with suspected cancer symptoms have not been referred for hospital tests. Urgent referrals, known as the two week wait, fell by 75% during the first month of lockdown, although improvements have been reported in recent weeks.

Research estimates that more than 23,000 cancer cases could have gone undiagnosed during the last 10 weeks.

Treatment for cancer has also fallen during lockdown, with 6,000 fewer people receiving chemotherapy and 2,800 fewer receiving radiotherapy. In addition, there were 12,800 fewer operations to remove tumours – 60% of the usual number.

Safe Covid-free spaces in hospitals will play a key role in addressing this diagnosis and treatment backlog. NHS England said that the coronavirus pandemic “has turned millions of lives upside down” but stress that cancer services are now “open, ready and able to receive all patients who need care.”

The Welsh and Scottish government say cancer screening programmes will resume when they have sufficient clinical advice that it is safe to do so. Northern Ireland plans to resume routine screening, as well as urgent cancer surgery and treatment.

We are urging people to not hesitate in contacting their GP if they are concerned about symptoms that may indicate a brain tumour.

If you have a brain tumour and have questions about your treatment, you should contact your medical team to discuss any changes being made. Our website also gives up-to-date information for everyone concerned.

Dr David Walker is Professor Paediatric Oncology at the University of Nottingham and lead investigator for HeadSmart, The Brain Tumour Charity’s collaborative brain symptom awareness campaign.

Dr Walker said: “We are concerned that the health service lockdown and the reported significant decrease in cancer scans and referrals, will be excluding patients with developing symptoms from assessment and referral for imaging.

“This could lead to a risk of late referrals and the risk of acute presentations and exaggerated brain injury.

“As the pandemic comes under control, we need to remind ourselves of the other serious illnesses the health system is designed to tackle.

“We have trained ourselves to identify brain tumours safely and we need children to be brought to their doctors to raise concerns and have the brain scan that is necessary when they present symptoms that are identified on the HeadSmart program.

“We know that many parents are concerned about going to see their GPs and the subsequent referrals this may result in but hospitals and services are safe and are opening up and no-one wants any child to be denied access to the care that they need.”

Our up-to date advice is that it’s important that you still contact your GP if you’re experiencing symptoms that may indicate a brain tumour – go to HeadSmart to learn more.

Most GP surgeries have started to offer phone or online appointments to reduce the amount of face-to-face contact. So, in the first instance, it’s best to contact them this way. If they feel it’s appropriate, they might then invite you in for an appointment for further assessment or make a decision to refer you for further investigation if they feel you’re at risk.

More specific cancer screening & symptom information can be found here