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'Frightening' scenario of 1 million cancer cases missed due to COVID in Europe

·2-min read
Senior male patient in a modern hospital. Getting better after a surgery/illness (shallow DOF; color toned image)
About one million cancer cases in Europe have gone undiagnosed, a study has said. (Getty)

Almost one million cancer cases have been missed in Europe because of the coronavirus pandemic, experts have warned.

The European Cancer Organisation (ECO), which compiled the figures, said the scale of the problem was “frightening”.

Its Special Network on COVID-19 and Cancer revealed that an estimated one million cases of cancer in Europe could be undiagnosed.

The ECO also said about 100 million cancer screening tests were not performed during the pandemic, which led to later stage diagnoses and potential decreases in overall survival for cancer patients.

It also found that one in five cancer patients in Europe is not receiving the surgery of chemotherapy that they need, while up to one in two people with potential cancer symptoms were not urgently referred for diagnosis.

Mark Lawler, co-chair of the ECO’s Special Network on COVID-19 and Cancer and professor of digital health at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “The scale of the problem is frightening.

“The disastrous impact of COVID-19 has meant that there are at least one million Europeans out there with a cancer that has not yet been diagnosed, and a further one in give of European cancer patients whose treatment has been delayed.

"We issue this urgent call to national governments across Europe. The time to act is now. 

“Without immediate action, the COVID-19 pandemic is poised to spark a cancer epidemic across Europe. 

“We require innovative solutions to strengthen cancer systems and provide the best possible care to cancer patients in the United Kingdom and across Europe.”

The ECO has launched the Time To Act campaign, which urges patients, healthcare professionals and politicians to ensure coronavirus does not continue to undermine the battle against cancer.

ECO president Dr Matti Aapro said: “Today’s findings bring the impact of COVID-19 on cancer into sharp focus. 

A nurse prepares the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine, at the West Wales General Hospital in Carmarthen, the third vaccine to be approved for use in the UK, which is to be given to patients in Wales from Wednesday. Picture date: Wednesday April 7, 2021.
A study found a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine can offer protection to blood cancer patients. (PA)

“We desperately need urgent measures at the highest level of European policy to address the cancer backlog, restore confidence in cancer services and tackle workforce/supply shortages.”

The Time To Act campaign calls on people to look out for common cancer warning signs – such as bleeding when you go to the toilet, a breast lump, difficulty swallowing and unexpected weight loss – and go to their doctor immediately.

Last April, a study predicted the pandemic could lead to 18,000 more cancer deaths in England per year.

Last month, a study revealed that a single dose of a coronavirus vaccine triggers an immune response in about 70% of blood cancer patients.

On World Cancer Day in February, health secretary Matt Hancock called on people to come forward for cancer treatment, insisting "the NHS is open".

Watch: Health secretary urges people to come forward for cancer treatment