“Besides everything we had been through, it was almost too much to take,” she says. “I was tormented that my cancer was spreading and that I wouldn’t be around as long as the kids needed me. I barely slept for weeks and called my oncologist in tears, but it was out of his reach.
Lucas instead began radiation therapy, considered a low-risk procedure, and eventually, at the end of June, after arguing with his oncologist, chemotherapy was reintegrated into his treatment plan. “The truth is, I’ll never know how that affected my chances compared to what could have been,” she says. “It’s a really hard thing to understand.”
The decision to close many cancer departments during the spring lockdown, as the NHS prioritized Covid care, means Lucas’ experience has been replicated across the UK. Not only has this resulted in crucial delays in treatment, but cancer screening programs have been halted, diagnostic procedures reduced or stopped altogether, and essential support services cut.
In April alone, the number of people in England receiving an urgent referral for cancer from their GPs fell to 79,573 from 200,000 in April 2019. The Macmillan cancer charity estimates that since the lockdown, more than 655,000 patients have been there are around 50,000 “ missing ” diagnoses (compared to 2019 figures) and around 33,000 people who should have started treatment for cancer who have not yet done so.
Another who fell into the sidelines was Natasha Marisa, 28, from Hampshire. She has been scanned every three months since being diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago. She was scheduled to undergo a scan within the week of the lockdown, but it was canceled.
“I had no idea when the next one was going. It was just horrible not knowing how the cancer was behaving, ”she says. Four weeks later, a scan showed her cancer had spread. She is currently taking a course in chemotherapy, which is currently working, but says, “This is going through my head, would my cancer have spread if we had managed to get the scan on time?” A recent study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine justifies his concerns. It found that each four-week delay in treatment was associated with a 6-8% increased risk of death for all cancers.