Breast Cancer

12,000 Women Living with Undiagnosed Breast Cancer after a Year of Lockdowns

New analysis by Breast Cancer Now suggests that close to 12,000 women in the U.K. were living with undiagnosed breast cancer at the end of May, following more than a year of lockdowns – and, to make matters worse, screening for the disease is still below pre-lockdown levels. The Times has the story.

The charity Breast Cancer Now said that since screening resumed in the summer of last year about half a million fewer women had been seen than in the same months of 2018 and 2019.

Separate research from the University of Exeter warned that six out of ten patients showing common “alarm” symptoms for cancer were not referred on for urgent investigation.

In September last year Breast Cancer Now warned that a million women had missed out on breast cancer screening because of the pandemic.

Any woman registered with a GP is invited for NHS breast screening every three years between the ages of 50 and 71, although services were paused last year to create capacity in the health service for coronavirus treatment and to reduce the spread of infection. They have restarted but are still subject to infection control measures that often mean that not as many patients can be seen during each session.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: “Unfortunately, despite our hardworking NHS staff, screening services running at reduced capacity means that now 1.5 million fewer women have been screened: a staggering 50% increase since services restarted.

“Women with breast cancer are continuing to pay the price due to the impact of the pandemic and in the worst cases delayed diagnoses could mean that some women die of this devastating disease.” Based on NHS referral, treatment and screening data, the charity estimated that as of May this year 10,162 people in England, 1,067 in Scotland, 620 in Wales and 30 in Northern Ireland could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer.

The charity, along with the Royal College of Radiologists, is calling for more funding and a long-term strategy to ensure that NHS imaging and diagnostic services have enough staff to see and treat patients promptly.

NHS England has said that it would spend £50 million on breast screening to meet national standards and recover backlogs by March next year.

Worth reading in full.

10,000 Fewer Patients in England Started Treatment for Breast Cancer in Past Year

Progress in reducing deaths from breast cancer has been put at risk because of lockdown and the prioritisation of Covid above all other diseases (as well as the reluctance of people to “burden” the NHS thanks, in part, to Government messaging), with more than 10,000 fewer patients in England alone having started treatment in the past year compared to the year before. The Guardian has the story.

According to an analysis of NHS England figures by Cancer Research U.K. (CRUK), about 38,000 fewer cancer patients began treatment between April 2020 and March 2021, compared with the same period a year earlier. Just under 28% of these were breast cancer patients, equating to about 10,600 people.

With CRUK noting that 2018 figures suggest about 15% of new cancers are breast cancer, it seems the disease has been disproportionately affected by the Covid pandemic, with the charity saying the majority of those who have missed out on breast cancer treatment are likely to be people who have yet to be diagnosed, with the vast majority in an early stage of the disease.

Cancer that is detected early is generally more treatable.

The charity said the cancers may not have been picked up in part because of the pause in breast cancer screening during the early part of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to another charity, Breast Cancer Now, almost one million British women, including about 838,000 in England, missed a breast cancer screening appointment during the height of the first wave of coronavirus.

However, CRUK said other factors behind the drop may include the reluctance of some to seek help for symptoms when the Covid waves were at their peaks, either because of concerns about burdening the NHS or because they were afraid of catching Covid.

The charity said the figures suggested progress in reducing breast cancer deaths could be at risk: while the disease is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the U.K., mortality rates have dropped almost 40% since the 1970s.

Dr Ajay Aggarwal, a Consultant Clinical Oncologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS trust, whose own work has suggested diagnosis delays caused by the pandemic may lead to 3,500 deaths in England from four main cancers in the next five years, said the latest figures confirmed what was feared at the beginning of the Covid outbreak when cancer services were significantly disrupted.

“This also confirms work recently undertaken in south-east London, where during the first wave of the pandemic, across a region of 1.7 million people, there were 30% fewer diagnoses of breast cancer,” he said. “This is likely to worsen when considering the cumulative impact of the second wave.”

He said similar trends were being seen across a range of other cancers. “For those eventually presenting, the data suggests – and clinical experience – that patients are presenting with more advanced, complex disease, which is either incurable or associated with worse prognosis compared to if they had been diagnosed earlier.”

Worth reading in full.

11,000 Women Could Be Living with Undiagnosed Breast Cancer Following “Protect the NHS” Drive

In a further indictment of the 12-month drive to “protect the NHS”, new analysis reveals that nearly 11,000 women could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer. The charity Breast Cancer Now has said that “the tragic cost of almost 11,000 missing breast cancer diagnoses is that in the worst cases, women could die from the disease”. The Telegraph has the story.

A reluctance to burden the health service during the pandemic’s first wave, coupled with a drop in GP referrals and suspensions of screening programmes is wreaking a “tragic cost”…

Research by the charity Breast Cancer Now found there were 10,700 fewer people diagnosed with breast cancer across the UK between March and December last year.