The Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer Diagnosis


COVID-19 has brought huge disruption to people across the globe. In essence, the pandemic brought the world to a standstill, especially during its first wave. We were told to stay at home, unable to go about our daily lives as normal and told to stay away from our friends and family. One key area that was also affected was our ability to access healthcare. GP appointments and routine dental care became inaccessible, vital screening services stopped and access to ongoing treatment paused in some cases.

Over a year on from the beginning of the pandemic, we’re beginning to see the knock-on effects of this. One stand out area is cancer; the backlog in cancer screening and diagnosis has grown to critical levels. Research has shown that as many as 50,000 people in the UK have been left without a cancer diagnosis, and that is only scratching the surface. In this article, we’ll explore the impact COVID-19 has had on cancer patients; for those awaiting access to cancer treatment and worryingly, those missing a crucial diagnosis.

The cancer backlog

One thing we’re certain of is that there is a backlog of people affected by cancer; from those missing their diagnosis, waiting for treatment, to patient’s whose treatment plans have been delayed or who are waiting for follow up appointments. Urgent referral statistics recorded in August 2020 are still 11% behind 2019 levels. Research carried out by Macmillan shows that even if activity was increased by 10%, it would take the NHS 20 months to work through the cancer diagnosis backlog that we’re faced with. Put simply, the lack of access to GP appointments, and reduction in screening services has left many without a diagnosis, and unable to access vital cancer treatment.

Missed cancer diagnoses

In the UK, 3 million fewer people were screened for cancer between March and September 2020. Cancer screening is an essential service for detecting cancer early on, enabling individuals to access treatment as soon as possible. Doing so gives them the best chance of recovery, and ultimately survival.

A further issue that has impacted cancer diagnosis levels is the inability to access scans, screenings and other diagnostic methods. The pandemic has also left some people feeling anxious to access healthcare services, even with them back open. This is especially the case for those that are medically vulnerable or living with somebody who is. Some people may be nervous to go into a healthcare setting and further their risk of picking up the virus.

The bottom line is that people across the UK are missing crucial cancer diagnoses. It’s so important people attend screening services and health assessments to discover any health issues they may be facing.

Those living with cancer

The narrative continues for those who are currently living with cancer. In what is already a very physically and mentally challenging time, having delayed access to treatment and facing longer waiting times for follow up scans and results has been extremely tough. In England online, 42% fewer people started cancer treatment following screening (in April 2020 – March 2021) compared to the same time the previous year. What’s more, half of those going through cancer treatment experienced delays, changes or cancellations to their treatment plans.

The psychological impact of what’s going on

Not only has the cancer backlog had an impact on people’s physical health, but also their mental health. The psychological impact of longer waiting times, combined with the inability to access care from health professionals has resulted in high levels of stress and anxiety. Individuals who are deemed non-urgent have been waiting much longer than usual. Whilst it makes sense that urgent referrals take priority, those deemed as non-urgent are experiencing high anxiety levels waiting to be seen by a health professional.

Similarly, for many who are waiting to start their treatment, not only are they worried about the treatment itself, but also the knock-on effects of the delayed access to treatment. Will it extend their treatment programme? Will the effectiveness of the treatment be compromised? Will their cancer get worse if they have delayed access to treatment?

This is also the case for those waiting for scans and follow up appointments; areas that have also faced some delays. Whether it’s for results, or yearly checkups, when people are looking for reassurance and the process is elongated, it’s tough. At a time where general morale is low, the psychological impact of the cancer backlog can’t be underestimated.

The power of preventative screening services

One thing we’ve learnt over the past year, is just how precious our health is. In 2021, we’re encouraging you all to put your health into your own hands. That’s why we offer advanced screening for cancer as part of our range of premium health screening services, giving you the power to make your health a priority. From a full-body screen, to more specific health screening services such as cardiac screening and breast screening and prostate screening. These in-depth health screens have been designed to detect underlying health issues, spotting health problems before you would notice something is wrong. When health issues, such as cancer, are recognised so early, it puts you in the best possible position to manage, or recover from the problems.

So whether you are concerned about your health, or would just like peace of mind; LycaHealth can help. Get in touch about our health screening service offering today. We can’t wait to help you on your journey to a long and healthy life.

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