There is a risk of a cancer epidemic following the response to Covid-19, an academic has warned.
It follows new research which has found that the efforts to tackle coronavirus are “significantly affecting” the treatment and care of patients with cancer.
The research, published in the European Journal of Cancer, highlights how the repurposing of health systems and implementation of social distancing measures, including national lockdowns, have had negative effects on patients with cancer.
There have also been delays in urgent referrals and patients having their cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, postponed, or surgery being delayed.
We are already seeing the indirect effects of the Covid-19 crisis on cancer careProfessor Mark Lawler, Queen's University
The research was conducted collaboratively by the Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Split, Croatia, and King’s College London.
There are more than 3.7 million new cancer diagnoses in Europe each year and over 1.9 million deaths.
Queen’s University’s Professor Mark Lawler said there is a risk of a future cancer epidemic.
“We are already seeing the indirect effects of the Covid-19 crisis on cancer care,” he said.
“Urgent referral numbers are dropping, endoscopies and other surgical procedures are being postponed and many cancer specialists are being redirected to Covid-19 specific care. If we don’t act, we risk the unintended consequence of the current Covid-19 pandemic precipitating a future cancer epidemic.”
He added: “We must encourage cancer patients, or citizens who are worried that they may have cancer symptoms, to continue to access health systems and we must ensure that those health systems are fit for purpose to support them. Cancer must be firmly in our cross wires, so that we avoid adding the lost lives of cancer patients to the Covid-19 death toll.”
We are starting to see people who may be at risk of developing cancer fearing a Covid-19 diagnosis more than a cancer diagnosisProfessor Eduard Vrdoljak, University of Split
The research also highlights that as more people are worrying about the signs and symptoms of Covid-19, less people are seeking advice on new symptoms of a possible cancer, including abnormal bleeding or new lumps on the body.
Professor Eduard Vrdoljak, of the University of Split, also voiced his concern.
“I am extremely worried. We are experiencing significant challenges,” he said.
“People’s fear of attending any health facility, coupled with their minds being more focused towards Covid-19 symptoms, mean that they may downplay rectal or bladder bleeding, a lump in the breast or other signs of cancer that otherwise would lead them immediately to consult their doctor.
“We are starting to see people who may be at risk of developing cancer fearing a Covid-19 diagnosis more than a cancer diagnosis.”
Professor Richard Sullivan, of King’s College London, added: “The focus on Covid-19 through 24-hour news cycles and social media, has dramatically changed our emotional and social infrastructure.
“At the scientific level, the modelling on which public health measures are being taken is entirely focused on Covid-19 mortality and morbidity, with little or no consideration for the impact of control measures on increasing morbidity and mortality in cancer, or indeed any other health condition.”