There have been 10,000 fewer breast cancer patients receiving treatment in the last year (Image: Getty Images)
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More than 10,000 less people started breast cancer treatment in England in the last year as NHS screening services stalled during the pandemic.
"Worrying" figures by Cancer Research UK show 38,000 fewer patients started treatment for any cancer, with breast cancer patients accounting for 10,600.
According to the charity, these are most likely cases of people who have cancer but are yet to be diagnosed.
They are believed to be people who haven't been invited for a screening as it was paused for several months when Covid took over.
Many people may have also been deterred from following up on their symptoms due to their concerns of contracting the virus at their GP, or because they didn't want to overwhelm the NHS.
The majority of so-called 'missing cancers' are, however, thought to be at their early stage, according to Public Health England’s Rapid Cancer Registration data.
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The drop in people receiving treatment goes up to 38,000 when considering all cancers
Almost 95 per cent of cases are believed to be at stage 1 or 2.
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Considering the huge disruption to cancer services, sadly, these figures are not surprising.
“And we’re seeing the impact of effectively pausing breast screening which detects almost a third of breast cancer cases.
“But it’s important to remember that cancer screening is for people without symptoms, so it’s vital that if people notice anything usual for them, please don’t wait for screening – get in touch with your GP.
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“In most cases it won’t be cancer, but if it is, catching it early gives the best chance of survival.”
Mum-of-two and army veteran, Charly McNelis, 37, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2020 after going to the GP with a lump.
She had a biopsy in early March and at the time Covid "wasn’t really a concern at that point,” but that changed rapidly over the next few weeks as it was confirmed she had cancer.
“It’s such an emotionally charged time and it’s draining – COVID-19 has been a significant factor," she said.
The drop came as screening services were halted for several months during the pandemic
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Charly McNelis, 37, had a challenging treatment as she was diagnosed in March 2020, when the pandemic broke out
But her treatment has had complications due to the pandemic, she is staying positive.
Charly sad: “I am lucky in many ways – my cancer is treatable. COVID-19 has impacted my treatment options but has not stopped it, and for that I am grateful.
"I got my diagnosis, and I got to have treatment, when there’s people out there who haven’t started treatment and are undiagnosed."
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Science is the route to beating cancer and from cell biology in the lab, to patient trials in hospitals, Cancer Research UK has helped to reduce breast cancer deaths.
"But these figures are worrying, and we could see progress slow over the coming years as the true effect of the pandemic is revealed.
“The NHS is showing signs of recovery, but a huge effort is still needed to clear the cancer backlog as quickly as possible to help avoid preventable cancer deaths as a consequence of the pandemic.”
Ms Mitchell added the government must ensure enough funding for staff, equipment and research so “cancer patients are given the best chance of surviving their disease”.
Below is a list of the main symptoms listed by Cancer Research UK as cancer signs you should be aware of.
- General symptoms, such as loss of appetite and weight, fatigue, heavy night sweats and swelling or a lump anywhere
- Skin changes, such as a new mole, a change to a mole or a sore that won't heal
- Symptoms that affect eating such as difficulty swallowing, heartburn or indigestion
- Symptoms affecting your voice and breathing such as croaky voice, breathlessness or persistent cough
- Bowel issues, problems urinating, unusual bleeding in urine or faeces
- Unexplained bleeding, including vaginal bleeding after sex or between periods
- Mouth ulcer that won't heal
- Persistent bloating
- Unusual breasts changes
For more detailed information please visit the charity's official website here.