Urgent referrals for patients with suspected lung cancer have dropped by a third over the past year, a study has suggested, with a combination of pandemic-related delays and people feeling reluctant to come forward and get symptoms checked out being largely to blame.
In England there were 20,300 fewer referrals for lung cancer symptoms between March 2020 and January 2021, with Cancer Research UK stating that the Covid-19 pandemic had created a “perfect storm of problems” that prevented patients from getting a diagnosis.
Ninety-one per cent of GPs polled by the charity said that patients were reluctant to go to a hospital for tests, while 78% said people with symptoms were not coming forward to primary care.
Dr Neil Smith, Cancer Research UK’s GP adviser, said initial government advice to stay at home and isolate if people had a new, continuous cough, could mean some people delayed seeking help.
A cough that lasts longer than three weeks, a change in a lingering cough, or coughing up blood are all potential warning signs of lung cancer.
However, Smith said that the situation had improved as Covid-19 cases dropped and the vaccine roll out begun.
Other pandemic-related factors that contributed to the delay in diagnoses included increased turnaround time for diagnostic tests (reported by 73% of GPs), difficulty in identifying symptoms via remote consultation (68%) and turnaround time for Covid-19 testing prior to lung tests (54%).
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “We’re hugely concerned for people who have symptoms but haven’t come forward or are putting off further tests.”
Mitchell called on the government to give cancer services the resources needed to ensure patients can swiftly receive tests and a diagnosis.