Public health experts have raised alarm that people might be mistaking their symptoms of possible lung cancer for coronavirus infection. They fear that this might result in decreased screenings for the lung cancer and worst clinical outcomes for these patients.
The reason for alarm is the new figure that is coming out of Cancer Research UK. The new statistics show that 350,000 fewer people than normal, received urgent suspected cancer referrals across all cancers since the end of March. Other data showed that nearly 3 million people missed out on lung cancer screening as well.
Experts think that people might be not getting adequate screening as they might think that they have a moderate coronavirus infection rather lung cancer.
One of the experts in the field, Dr Neil Smith, who is a general physician at Cancer Research UK for the Lancashire and South Cumbria Cancer Alliance, termed the lack of cancer referrals as the “black hole” in cancer healthcare services.
“The biggest thing I have noticed during coronavirus is that fewer of my patients are actually coming forwards to tell me about the signs and the symptoms of cancer. They seem to be reluctant to do so,” he explained further.
Some concerning research coming from Cancer Research UK today.
'At least 14,000 fewer people have been urgently referred for lung cancer tests since March.'
Early diagnosis of lung cancer is crucial. These delays in diagnosis worry me more and more every day.
— Professor Karol Sikora (@ProfKarolSikora) September 17, 2020
Data shows that at the end of the previous month, suspected lung cancer referrals were only 60 percent of what they are usually every year. While for other cancers these statistics seem to be improving. This does not seem like the case with lung cancer.
Doctors and other healthcare experts think that these numbers might be the result of the message from national health services that people should avoid going out. In many regions in United Kingdom, there has also been a decrease in access to X-rays and diagnostic tests. Many of the patients that have been referred for lung cancer screenings are also avoiding going to the hospital in fear of getting coronavirus.
However, the biggest reason might be the confusion between the symptoms of coronavirus and the lung cancer. In both cases, there can be a persistent cough and breathlessness along with lack of energy.
According to Smith not only the patients but physicians might also be confusing these symptoms. This can mean delayed diagnosis of serious lung cancer disease.
An elderly family friend in the UK was admitted to hospital with chest pain – thinking they had Covid-19.
Turns out they actually have terminal lung cancer. Hospital sent them straight home, no treatment.
So if we don’t have Covid-19, our hospitals just don’t want to know.
— Fiona Marie Flanagan (@fionamflanagan1) April 22, 2020
Research has shown that delayed diagnosis of lung cancer can be catastrophic and can mean increased therapeutic interventions and possibility of death in many cases. An early diagnosis can mean that that more than 60 percent of patients might be cured. However, in cases of late diagnosis there is a real possibility that the patient will not survive for the next five years.
Early diagnosis is key to beating cancer, as patients diagnosed early have the best chance of survival. Today we launched our Early Diagnosis of Cancer roadmap, to outline how we can unite efforts across the UK to drive progress in this area 👇 https://t.co/OpG4T4CGsS
— Cancer Research UK (@CR_UK) October 6, 2020
In United Kingdom, many clinical trials have also been paused which were using lung cancer screening to diagnose lung cancers earlier. All of this raises a serious public health issue that needs urgent attention.
News report show that the cancer services have seriously been affected due to the pandemic. It has resulted in delayed cancer screening, diagnoses and treatment. Many others are also now unable to access experimental treatments through clinical trials.
This might also put a hamper in the government’s plan to diagnose 75 percent cancers in their early stage by 2028, which was already a huge challenge to undertake without complications caused by the pandemic.
Lung cancer specialist nurses ‘overwhelmed’ by caseloads – the findings of a report by Lung Cancer Nursing UK are due to be launched at an event in parliament today https://t.co/shYCMIGbOL #lungcancer
— BT Asbestos Claims (@btasbestos) March 4, 2020
The charity now estimates that additional £260m over the next three to five years are needed for investment in workforce alone to increase diagnosis and treatment of cancer by 45 percent.
With one in two of us getting cancer in our lifetime, how the Government responds to NHS staff shortages now will determine what the future holds for people with cancer in the decades to come. 2/3
— Cancer Research UK (@CR_UK) October 12, 2020