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One in three lung cancer patients have died due to pandemic

As countries across Europe debate strategies for coping with the so-called “second wave” of the coronavirus, health experts are becoming increasingly critical of lockdowns as a prime method of bringing contagion down, pointing to the multiple negative repercussions – and not just in economic terms.

A new report from the UK Lung Cancer Coalition sheds light on another aspect of the crisis that it calls “the catastrophe that is the COVID-19 pandemic,” providing the startling figure that one in three lung cancer patients have died since the pandemic’s outbreak.

The report, cited by the Daily Mail, quotes Professor David Baldwin, a respiratory medicine consultant at the University of Nottingham, who stated that: “At least a third of patients with lung cancer have already died since the beginning of the pandemic. Some deaths will not have been recognized as lung cancer and may have even been labeled as COVID-19,” due to the fact that a cough is a key symptom of both diseases.

In addition, treatment for cancer patients across the board has suffered tremendously as a result of pressure put on healthcare services and more broadly, from scaring people into postponing or foregoing checkups designed to enable early detection of cancer.

The report notes that referrals for lung cancer treatment fell by 75% in the UK’s first lockdown, and estimates that delays in diagnosing and treating cancer could lead to close to fifteen thousand otherwise avoidable deaths over the next five years, reversing many significant advances in cancer treatment made over the past few decades.

Lung cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, and many people are currently being diagnosed at a later stage than they would be otherwise, because people with a cough are being told to stay home and self-isolate rather than bother health services.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, a foremost cancer specialist, told the Daily Mail that: “There is a specific problem for lung cancer, which is the overlap of symptoms with COVID-19. Some patients may develop cough symptoms and be told to stay at home until their symptoms get worse. This has resulted in an increase in late-stage presentations,” which significantly decrease the chances of success once treatment is commenced.

Even once cancer is diagnosed, treatment itself has been delayed in a large number of cases.

The report states that more than half of lung cancer specialist nurses or team members have been unable to work or were redeployed as a result of the pandemic, leading to thousands of patients having surgery and/or chemotherapy postponed.

“With studies showing that a sixteen percent increase in mortality of the time from diagnosis to surgery is more than 40 days, a delay of three months or more can mean the progression from a potentially curative tumor towards one that is only suitable for palliative care,” the report’s authors write.

Approached for comment, the UK Department of Health urged people to come forward if they have what they think are symptoms of lung cancer, of which the main symptoms, according to the NHS, are: a persistent cough that gets worse; recurrent chest infections; aches or pains when breathing or coughing; coughing up blood; breathlessness; lack of energy; loss of appetite.

Given the similarity of many of these symptoms with those of coronavirus, the number of those seeking to be tested for COVID-19 may well rise – and receipt of a positive result will be relieving news for many.

Source: Arutz Sheva