‘Double jeopardy’ for cancer patients in Wales

As attention begins to turn to the longer term outcomes of the pandemic, scientists warn that COVID-19 will indirectly cause deaths for months, if not years, to come.

A new study in England estimates that there will be at least a 20% increase in cancer deaths for newly diagnosed patients over the next year. If the same applies in Wales, cancer services will face a double jeopardy situation.

The ‘double jeopardy’ for cancer comes from trying to catch up with postponed screenings, referrals and treatments – whilst simultaneously trying to keep up with new cases. In turn this will cause a huge strain on already stretched cancer pathways. Ultimately, this will cost more lives.

Wales is already behind when it comes to cancer. Research indicates that there are several points in the pathway where delays can occur. In one study on bowel cancer, patients in Wales waited twice as long between symptom presentation and treatment, compared to the best performing country.

The impact of COVID-19 is being felt across the entire cancer pathway in Wales. Data from England and Scotland indicates that GP referrals for urgent suspected cancer have dropped by over 70%, with Wales expected to show a similar pattern.

Surgery remains a key treatment for many cancers, but many procedures have been postponed as a result of the pandemic. Professor Dean Harris, consultant colorectal surgeon and Cancer Research Wales funded researcher, said:

“Secondary care cancer services have faced a challenging time with the arrival of Covid-19. With uncertainty about when and how high the peak would be we have had to release bed space in all major hospitals to accommodate the wave.

When this is coupled with the concerns about worse outcomes in operated patients who have contracted, COVID-19 has resulted in very little cancer surgery taking place.”

Cancer Research Wales has already funded major flagship projects to investigate ways that cancers presenting in primary care can be spotted and referred into secondary care earlier, and with better accuracy.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis response period, Cancer Research Wales’s Chief Executive, Ann Tate, states that research into improving cancer pathways will be critical to prevent Wales from falling further behind.

“Cancer pathways in Wales were overburdened, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Investment in research will take on even greater importance as attempts are made to relieve the bottlenecks across the patient pathways in Wales following the current crisis.

As we move forward, we must use the lessons learned, together with timely research, to rebuild more efficient pathways and continue to improve outcomes for cancer patients.”

To read in full statement visit our blog page

Double jeopardy – Cancer and COVID-19