Cancer death risk increases up to 10% per month of treatment delays


Cancer patients’ risk of dying increases by as much as 10 per cent for every month treatment is delayed, study finds

  • Research shows 33,000 cancer sufferers in UK are facing treatment delays
  • Postponing treatment by one month can increase the risk of death by 10 percent 
  • First lockdown saw tens of thousands of cancer treatments cancelled or delayed 

Cancer patients’ risk of dying increases by up to 10 per cent for every month their treatment is delayed, according to the largest ever study carried out into the phenomenon.

The report lays bare how the devastating disruption to cancer services during the pandemic will cost thousands of lives.

Research shows that around 33,000 cancer sufferers in the UK are facing delays in starting treatment.

The British Medical Journal study, which used data from 1.2 million patients worldwide, found that postponing treatment by just one month raises the risk of death by around 10 per cent. Survival chances deteriorate the longer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are put back.

Research shows that around 33,000 cancer sufferers in the UK are facing delays in starting treatment going into the second lockdown on Thursday. Pictured: Cancer patient visiting doctor for medical consultation (stock image)

For example, a two-month delay to breast cancer surgery was found to increase the risk of death by 17 per cent, while a three-month wait increases the risk by 26 per cent.

During the first lockdown, tens of thousands had NHS cancer treatment cancelled or postponed. Experts warn patients cannot afford to suffer further delays during the new lockdown.

The BMJ study found there is no ‘safe’ amount of time for which treatment can be put off, and it is essential to start therapy as soon as possible after diagnosis.

It also calculated there will be around 1,400 excess breast cancer deaths in the UK as a result of the 12-week delays for patients needing surgery in lockdown.

The research, led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is the first major study to analyse the precise impact of delays on cancer survival chances.

It examined research on patients with seven forms of cancer – bladder, breast, colon, rectum, lung, cervix, and head and neck. Lead author Dr Timothy Hanna said: ‘A four-week delay in treatment is associated with an increase in mortality across all common forms of cancer treatment, with longer delays being increasingly detrimental.’

During the first lockdown, tens of thousands had NHS cancer treatment cancelled or postponed. Experts warn patients cannot afford to suffer further delays during the new lockdown (stock image)

During the first lockdown, tens of thousands had NHS cancer treatment cancelled or postponed. Experts warn patients cannot afford to suffer further delays during the new lockdown (stock image)

The study follows research suggesting 50,000 people in the UK have undiagnosed cancer as a result of Covid disruptions. Experts believe it could take the NHS almost two years to recover.

Sara Bainbridge, of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: ‘These findings should serve as a stark and timely reminder of the critical importance of protecting cancer services as we enter the second wave of coronavirus.’

One of those who has been hit by the delays in cancer care is ambulance worker Kellie Shiers.

The 49-year-old, who beat breast cancer five years ago, was due for a routine mammogram check-up in April but it was cancelled.

Missed check-ups: Kellie Shiers, an ambulance worker, has been hit by the delays in cancer care. The 49-year-old, who beat breast cancer five years ago, was due for a routine mammogram check-up in April but it was cancelled. Last week, seven months later, she found out her cancer had returned

Missed check-ups: Kellie Shiers, an ambulance worker, has been hit by the delays in cancer care. The 49-year-old, who beat breast cancer five years ago, was due for a routine mammogram check-up in April but it was cancelled. Last week, seven months later, she found out her cancer had returned

Last week, seven months later, she found out her cancer had returned, and had also spread to other parts of her body.

She is now due to have chemotherapy for up to eight months, although doctors fear a bone in her left leg may not be saved after the cancer spread there.

Miss Shiers, from Eccles, Manchester, said: ‘It’s one thing to be dealing with the breast cancer, but it’s another to know that if my mammogram had taken place I wouldn’t be looking at a 2cm tumour and chemotherapy.’

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