Cancer services here are facing a "time bomb" due to the number of undiagnosed patients during the pandemic, a world-renowned expert in the disease has warned.
Professor Karol Sikora, a former World Health Organisation (WHO) chief, made the stark assessment after it was revealed that up to 800 people have yet to be diagnosed.
The Northern Ireland Cancer Registry described the figure as "extremely worrying", the BBC reported.
Dr Anna Gavin from the organisation said the halting of services due to coronavirus has had a detrimental impact.
"The screening services have been stopped, dental referrals have been stopped and we've seen big reductions in the numbers of cancers diagnosed, more so in older people than in younger people, but cancer's more common in older people," said the medic.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Prof Sikora warned that cancer services here face a surge in cases by the late summer, leading through into the autumn.
"In the whole of the UK it's 30,000 cancers a month that should be diagnosed. And we know that in April, May and June it has been much less than that," he said.
"Those as-yet undiagnosed cancers in Northern Ireland will resurface later, and the patients will have later stage presentation, and will need more treatment, surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
"The other problem is that they'll all come at once, so the system will be overwhelmed in the summer by having to deal with them all together.
"We're looking at a time bomb exploding and then the patients will come."
Meanwhile, the latest cancer waiting report has prompted calls for high-priority cancer services to be at the "heart" of plans to rebuild health and social care here after the pandemic.
Official statistics published yesterday show of the 440 patients who started treatment in March following an urgent GP referral, 54% were seen within the target of 62 days - down from almost 62% for the previous March.
In the same month, just over 80% of patients (1,069) with an urgent referral for suspected breast cancer were seen within the 14-day target - down from over 85% in March 2019.
Health Minister Robin Swann said yesterday the report's statistics are a "stark reminder" of the challenges facing our health service, which will be tackled by plans to rebuild the system post-pandemic. "The restructuring of services necessitated to combat Covid-19 means that the waiting lists for the second quarter will in all likelihood be even worse," he said.