Cancer patients ‘worrying about when treatment will resume’
Some cancer patients are still being kept in the dark about when their treatment will resume and are frightened that their illness will get worse, according to a new poll.
A survey of 1,900 patients in May for Cancer Research UK found that one in three had had their treatment disrupted due to the impact of Covid-19 on the NHS.
This equates to hundreds of thousands of people experiencing cancellations, delays and changes to their treatment across the UK, the charity said.
Some 42% of those surveyed said tests, including those to find out whether cancer has spread or returned, had been affected.
And around 70% of people who experienced delays or cancellations to cancer testing and treatment said they were left feeling more frustrated and anxious.
Since lockdown began, Cancer Research UK estimates that around 38,000 fewer treatments have taken place compared with a similar period of time before the pandemic.
One woman with early-stage breast cancer, who responded to the poll, said her annual mammogram was postponed indefinitely.
She said: “I worry that if I have a recurrence (it) will be more advanced than it would have been pre-Covid. And I worry there’s no access to treatment.”
A 73-year-old respondent living with stage IV lung and breast cancer said: “I am still waiting to speak to someone to know if I can have treatment.
“I am very scared. I don’t want to die during this Covid outbreak without seeing my loved ones.”
Nearly half of all cancer patients surveyed were worried about catching Covid-19 and a similar proportion were worried about becoming seriously ill from it.
Almost two-thirds (64%) said the NHS’s ability to support their emotional well-being or their mental health had been affected.
A 33-year-old man with stage IV lung and gastrointestinal cancer said: “My diagnosis is terminal, and I wish I could attend support groups consisting of other terminal patients.
“It’s been upsetting coping with this without easy access to emotional support services.”
Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “Covid-19 has undoubtedly put a huge strain on people affected by cancer and has had an extraordinary impact on their care and wellbeing. We’ve been hearing many of these stories over the past few months.
“There is some good news, however. Since the peak of the pandemic, the NHS has started to restore cancer services and more people are being referred to hospital for tests.
“But there’s still a long way to go to clear the mounting backlog of patients waiting for tests and treatment.
“We want to make sure patients have access to the best possible care, but we need support from the public to continue to fund life-saving research. Our mission to beat cancer has never been more urgent.”
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “The impact that Covid-19 has had on cancer patients during the pandemic has been profound.
“I’ve had some difficult conversations with patients throughout the pandemic to explain adjustments to their treatment plans.
“It has been a stressful and lonely time for many patients, worried about coming to hospital for fear of catching the virus or having their treatment delayed or altered.
“The Government must ensure, in advance of a resurgence of Covid-19 in the winter months, that patients have access to Covid-19-protected hospital facilities across the country so they can be cared for with little risk of contracting the virus.”
An NHS spokeswoman said: “More than 350,000 people received an urgent hospital check and 65,000 people started treatment for cancer through the peak of the pandemic, and after an entirely appropriate and necessary pausing of some screening and treatments to protect patients from the risk of the virus, the NHS is taking urgent action to increase the number of tests and treatment carried out so that more people are able to be seen quickly and safely.
“The critical point remains that anyone with a possible symptom should come forward for a check-up with their GP as they normally would.”