Delays in diagnosis caused by Covid-19 lockdowns are thought to have caused thousands of additional lung cancer deaths, according to a new report published by the UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC).

Estimates reveal that delays in diagnosis caused by lockdowns may result in a drop of up to 5.3% in five-year survival in England. Data shows that survival rates were around 17.6% for patients diagnosed pre-pandemic (2014 to 2018), but dropped to around 12.3% for those diagnosed during the pandemic.

Delays in diagnosis may result in a significant drop in five-year survival

Professor Robert Rintoul, chair of the UKLCC’s clinical advisory group, and Professor of Thoracic Oncology, University of Cambridge, said: “Prior to the pandemic, real progress was being made in raising five-year survival rates, but Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on early diagnosis of lung cancer and has compromised our target of driving up five-year UK survival to 25 percent by 2025.”

“Lung cancer patients have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Government guidance to stay at home with a cough, reluctance to engage with healthcare services during lockdown, and pressures on already over-burdened health services, have inevitably resulted in a fall in referrals and increase in late-stage presentations of the disease. We need to take urgent action to get back on track,” adds Professor Rintoul.

The findings of the report, compiled by lung cancer clinicians and nurse specialists from across the UK, has prompted the researchers to demand a ‘levelling up’ in lung cancer care, with a fully funded, screening programme across all four UK nations.

They are also calling for a biannual national and regional public awareness campaigns, featuring a dedicated lung cancer helpline to ensure easy access to support and diagnosis for patients, without placing an additional burden on primary care.

“We must rally together and ensure that the pre-pandemic progress in lung cancer outcomes was not in vain”

The report makes various other recommendations, including:

  • Alongside surgery, the NHS should invest in Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy (SABR) to enable widespread access to curative treatments for lung cancer
  • Addressing workforce shortages by urging the Government to invest in training for all the disciplines of the lung cancer multi-disciplinary team
  • Improving access to more near real-time data in lung cancer
  • Patients with advanced disease should be monitored to see how access to immunotherapy is impacting on survival outcomes.

Martin Grange, Chair of the UKLCC, says it is now vital that we “rally together and ensure that the pre-pandemic progress in lung cancer outcomes was not in vain.” He concludes: “We can fix UK lung cancer.”