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A growing number of women are being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, compromising their chances of survival, due to Covid’s disruption of NHS care, a charity has warned.

The number of women diagnosed with stage 4 disease is up to 48% higher than expected in some months, with the pandemic to blame, says Macmillan Cancer Support.

At the same time, fewer women are confirmed to have stage 1 breast cancer, when their chances of responding well to treatment and living longer are much higher.

For example, in April, 128 women were diagnosed at stage 4 – 28 (42%) more than expected, based on pre-pandemic trends, Macmillan said. But in the same month, 942 were diagnosed at stage 1, 164 (15%) fewer than expected.

Macmillan estimates that there is now a backlog of 47,300 people across the UK who have yet to be diagnosed with some form of cancer, as a direct result of Covid. These are people who have not been able to access care in the usual way because many NHS services have been cut, as well as those who were too afraid to ask for help or did not want to add to the pressure that the health service was already under. None have had a confirmed cancer diagnosis, although some may be tested or screened.

“The full impact of the pandemic on a subsequent diagnosis will not be understood for some time. But these numbers reinforce our worst fears that the delays and disruption caused by the pandemic will lead to more and more people being diagnosed later, ”said Steven McIntosh, executive director of Macmillan.

“Anyone diagnosed at a later stage faces the agony of fewer options and a worse prognosis. On top of that, they enter a system that does not have the capacity to guarantee them treatment and timely care, which is of the utmost importance, ”he added.

The charity wants ministers to make detailed plans to relieve “alarming pressures on cancer departments” when they release their “elective recovery plan” next week. He will detail how NHS England will tackle the record queue of 5.8 million patients awaiting care.

A Macmillan analysis found that the types of cancer that saw the biggest drops in diagnosis in England between March 2020 and July this year included prostate cancer (down 23.1%), multiple myeloma ( 13.8%), melanoma (13.2%) and breast cancer (11.6%). ).

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats and spokesperson for health, said people “will be alarmed by these figures which show record numbers of people waiting too long for cancer treatment, leaving them at risk more intensive treatment and a lower chance of survival.

“It is particularly worrying that prostate cancer, leukemia and breast cancer are the most missed diagnoses. “

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Affairs said: “Cancer diagnosis and treatment is a top priority and nearly half a million people were screened for cancer in August and September this year. year – one of the highest numbers ever.

“We remain committed to implementing our long-term cancer plan and have supported the NHS with a record investment, including £ 2bn this year and £ 8bn over the next three years to provide 9 million additional checks, analyzes and operations for patients.

“Most cancer departments are back to or above pre-pandemic levels and the latest NHS figures show a reduction in the number of patients awaiting diagnosis for the first time this year, meaning more people are now getting the checks they need. “


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