Coronavirus pandemic 'may have reversed progress on lung cancer survival' in South Yorkshire

Lung cancer survival rates have improved in South Yorkshire, figures show – but experts fear the impact of the coronavirus pandemic may have already reversed years of progress nationally.

Wednesday, 18th November 2020, 1:42 pm

The UK Lung Cancer Coalition has warned that patients with the disease are particularly impacted by "the catastrophe that is Covid-19", due to the similarity of symptoms and increased pressure on respiratory services.

Public Health England data shows between 2014 and 2018, 39.2 per cent of patients diagnosed with lung cancer in South Yorkshire lived another year.

That was below the national average of 39.4 per cent, but an improvement on 30.7 per cent in 2006-10 – the period with the earliest available data. The figures cover patients aged between 15 and 99.

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Professor Mick Peake
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Dr Patricia Fisher, clinical director for the South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Cancer Alliance, said: “We know that the earlier we detect, diagnose and treat cancer, the more likely you are to survive and live well for longer. The current pandemic is a worrying time for us all but we cannot stress enough the importance of making an appointment with your GP if you are at all worried about a sign or symptom that could be cancer.

“All services across South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw are working incredibly hard and in many different and new ways to make sure we can continue to see, diagnose and treat people in the safest possible way.

“Symptoms of lung cancer, such as a cough, can be particularly confusing at the moment as we all know that a cough is a key symptom of Covid-19 but if you have had a persistent cough for longer than three weeks, are coughing up blood, or you’re in pain when breathing, we may need you to have some tests. Many people have been avoiding to make appointments for many different reasons – from fear or not wanting to add to the work of their local health system but we are here, we are open and we’ve made lots of changes to keep you safe. I would like to encourage anyone with signs or symptoms to come forward.”

Professor Mick Peake, chairman of the UKLCC's clinical advisory group, said: “Fear of engaging with health services, halting the national programme of lung cancer screening pilots, and restricted access to diagnostic tests." have contributed to a drop in urgent GP referrals in England.

"Government guidance to stay at home with a cough, a key symptom of lung cancer, has caused further confusion," he added.

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK, with low survival rates compared to other cancer types.

In South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw, the one-year survival rate for prostate cancer is 95.2%, and 96.2% for breast cancer.

Dr Jodie Moffat, head of early diagnosis at charity Cancer Research UK, said "there is still a long way to go" in improving lung cancer survival rates, despite good progress.

She added: "We’re extremely concerned that Covid-19 will negatively affect cancer outcomes because of delays in diagnosis and treatment and particularly for lung cancer, because of the similarity in some symptoms.

"Additionally, diagnosis and treatment can use many of the same resources such as tests like chest x-rays and doctors and nurses that specialise in lung conditions."

An NHS spokeswoman said an improvement in survival rates over the past decade reflected "the hard work of NHS staff in detecting more cancers at an earlier stage".

“While some people put off seeking care at the peak of the pandemic, our services are open and safe to use," she said.

She added that anyone with symptoms of lung cancer, which can include a continuous cough for three or more weeks, breathing difficulties and continued tiredness, should contact their GP.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.