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Cancer services should be ring-fenced during COVID-19 pandemic, says leading charity

Macmillan Cancer Support warns of dangers of treatment delays if specialist nurses redeployed

Macmillan Cancer Support warns of dangers of treatment delays if specialist nurses are redeployed during the pandemic

NHS cancer services should be ring-fenced during the COVID-19 pandemic, recommends Macmillan Cancer Support , which could mean that cancer nurse specialists would not be redeployed.

Study finds delays in cancer treatments increases risk of death

The call comes after UK and Canadian researchers found that delaying cancer treatment by one month can lead to a 6-13% higher risk of death .

Dany Bell: ‘Cancer should not become the “Forgotten C”’

Macmillan Cancer Support’s specialist adviser for treatment and former lead cancer nurse Dany Bell said the findings are deeply concerning.

    Macmillan Cancer Support warns of dangers of treatment delays if specialist nurses are redeployed during the pandemic

    Masked patient prepares to receive cancer treatment
    Picture: Alamy

    NHS cancer services should be ring-fenced during the COVID-19 pandemic, recommends Macmillan Cancer Support, which could mean that cancer nurse specialists would not be redeployed.

    Study finds delays in cancer treatments increases risk of death

    The call comes after UK and Canadian researchers found that delaying cancer treatment by one month can lead to a 6-13% higher risk of death.

    Macmillan Cancer Support special adviser Dany Bell
    Dany Bell: ‘Cancer should not become the “Forgotten C”’

    Macmillan Cancer Support’s specialist adviser for treatment and former lead cancer nurse Dany Bell said the findings are deeply concerning.

    ‘It is a stark reminder that cancer services must be protected during the pandemic,’ she said.

    The charity has estimated that as many as 50,000 people in the UK have cancer, which has not yet been diagnosed because of the disruption caused by COVID-19.

    Call for ring-fenced cancer services during the COVID-19 pandemic

    Ms Bell added: ‘To ensure cancer doesn’t become the ‘Forgotten C’, the government must guarantee that NHS cancer services will have ring-fenced staffing and resources to enable them to continue running through the winter months so that cancer nurses and clinicians, as well as vital equipment and beds, are not redeployed.’

    The research, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), looked at 34 studies published between January 2000 and April 2020.

    A total of 1,272, 681 participants were included in these studies.

    Delays to treatment increase risk of death

    The studies covered seven forms of cancer – bladder, breast, colon, rectum, lung, cervix, and head and neck – which together represent 44% of all cancer cases worldwide.

    The main outcome measure of the research was the risk to overall survival per four-week delay. Delays were measured from diagnosis to first treatment or from the completion of one treatment to the start of the next.

    Analysis of the results showed that, across surgical and systemic therapy such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, a delay of four weeks was associated with an increase in the risk of death.

    For surgery, this was a 6-8% increase in the risk of death for every four-week delay.

    The impact was even more marked when radiotherapy was needed, with a 9% increased risk of death for head and neck cancer, and 13% for colorectal cancer.

    Department of Health and Social Care ‘plans to reduce waiting times’

    A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: ‘More than 200,000 people were treated for cancer during the first peak of COVID-19 and more than 870,000 people were referred for cancer checks between March and August.’

    The DHSC added it plans to increase urgent cancer referrals, reduce waiting times and ensure capacity for cancer patients.


    Find out more

    Mortality due to cancer treatment delay: systematic review and meta-analysis


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