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‘Disastrous’ cost of lockdown: new report says we face cancer ‘epidemic’ as cases missed

'Urgent' response needed

A shocking new report says that one million cancer diagnoses were missed across Europe in the last two years, and that the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown might set the fight against cancer back by a decade. 

The report comes as calls grow for an inquiry into the justification for Ireland’s severe and extended lockdowns, and the effect of the restrictions on accessibility to medical treatment.

The report was written by a wide range of patient, scientific, and healthcare experts with detailed knowledge of cancer across Europe. Titled ‘European Groundshot – Addressing Europe’s Cancer Research Challenges‘, it was published in Lancet Oncology and says that the pandemic had a ‘disastrous’ effect on the early diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

“One unintended consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, with rapid repurposing of health services and introduction of national lockdowns, has been the adverse effects that these measures and their continuing legacy have had on cancer services, on cancer research, and most importantly on patients with cancer,” the researchers said.

“To emphasise the scale of this problem, we estimate that about 1m cancer diagnoses might have been missed across Europe during the Covid-19 pandemic,” they added.

“There is emerging evidence that a higher proportion of patients are diagnosed with later cancer stages compared with pre-pandemic rates as a result of substantial delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment,” the experts found. “This cancer stage shift will continue to stress European cancer systems for years to come.”

They warned that the issues will mean that more cancer patients will die, while others have an “inferior quality of life”.

“These issues will ultimately compromise survival and contribute to inferior quality of life for many European patients with cancer,” they say. ” COVID-19 has regrettably exposed the poor resilience in current cancer health systems that will prompt a cancer epidemic over the next decade if not addressed urgently.”

“Cancer was already a leading cause of premature death before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the disastrous effects of the pandemic on early diagnosis and treatment
will probably set back cancer outcomes in Europe by almost a decade,” they say.

The study analysed data on the impact of the Covid lockdowns and found that clinicians saw 1.5 million fewer patients with cancer in the first year of the pandemic – while one in two patients with cancer did not receive surgery or chemotherapy in a timely manner.

Additionally, 100 million cancer screening tests were missed, across Europe.

Professor Mark Lawler, Queen’s University Belfast, and chairman and lead author of the commission, said: “We estimate that approximately one million cancer diagnoses were missed across Europe during the Covid-19 pandemic.“We are in a race against time to find those missing cancers.

“Additionally, we saw a chilling effect on cancer research with laboratories shut down and clinical trials delayed or cancelled in the first pandemic wave.”

“We are concerned that Europe is heading towards a cancer epidemic in the next decade if cancer health systems and cancer research are not urgently prioritised.”

“Our European Groundshot Commission provides crucial findings on the current landscape of cancer research, exposes the key gaps, and demands the prioritisation of European cancer research agendas over the next decade.”

“With the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is more important than ever that Europe develops a resilient cancer research landscape to play a transformative role in improving prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and quality-of-life for current and future patients and those living beyond cancer,” he added.

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