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Lung Cancer Referrals down 50% due to COVID-19

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Cancer Research UK has revealed that lung cancer referrals are said to be down 50% over the last few months due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Fewer patients may be visiting their GP with lung cancer symptoms due to the similar nature of coronavirus symptoms, and this is seen as a cause for concern.

Cancer Research UK is said to be concerned not just about the apparent lack of lung cancer referrals, but also the lack of referrals for all types of cancer. They fear that the Government’s ‘stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ messaging may have impacted people’s decision-making to visit their GP and, as a result, hindered early diagnosis of cancers and, perhaps, the outcome of treatments.

Lung cancer referrals

Since March, only around 16,000 patients reportedly received urgent lung cancer referrals in the UK, compared to an expected 34,000 referrals. Cancer Research UK is understood to have estimated that some 3 million people may have missed out on general cancer screenings since the outbreak of Coronavirus in the UK in March 2020. They have also estimated that, due to lockdown, there are thousands of cancer patients who may not have had surgery when comparing figures to previous years, and far fewer have undergone radiotherapy than usual as well.

Cancer Research UK fears that tens of thousands of extra deaths could be caused due to a delay in patients being referred to cancer specialists and the cancellation of virtually all procedures, check-ups and operations relating to cancer at the beginning of March 2020.

Similar symptoms: lung cancer or COVID

The dramatically reduced lung cancer referral rate is suspected to be the result of the coronavirus outbreak. The symptoms of both Coronavirus and lung cancer can include a persistent cough, breathlessness and a lack of energy.

These similarities could mean that members of the public are less likely to visit a GP and instead stay at home and self-isolate for 14 days. It may be that the government advice to ‘stay home’ could be detrimental to the survival of lung cancer patients, despite statements that people should still seek advice about cancer symptoms. In some cases, by self-isolating, patients could be missing out on early diagnosis which can be crucial for things like lung cancer.

Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said:

“Lung cancer is one of the biggest cancer killers. Early diagnosis is absolutely critical.”

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, do not automatically assume that you have coronavirus, as it could be the early stages of lung cancer. Covid-19 tests are usually available to check if you do have the virus before visiting the GP, and you should always seek proper medical advice.

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IMPORTANT: advice on this page is intended to be up-to-date for the 'first published date'.

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