Almost half of cancers are being diagnosed after they are likely to have spread, a new report has revealed.
The number of people who were diagnosed early at stage one or two fell to 52 per cent in 2020, figures from NHS Digital show.
The drop will see thousands more patients die from the disease over the next couple of years, one of the UK’s leading cancer doctors warned.
Just 19 per cent of some cancers like oesophageal were diagnosed at an early stage compared to 91 per cent of testicular, according to the official data.
The number of people who were diagnosed early at stage one or two fell to 52 per cent in 2020, figures from NHS Digital show. The drop will see thousands more patients die from the disease over the next couple of years, one of the UK’s leading cancer doctors warned. Just 19 per cent of some cancers like oesophageal were diagnosed at an early stage compared to 91 per cent of testicular, according to the official data
It comes after it was revealed the number of cancer patients seen within two months of an urgent GP referral had plummeted
Professor Karol Sikora (pictured), a consultant oncologist, said the health service was seeing patients appearing with later stage cancers but that there would be a natural lag before death rates reflected this
Those living in areas of the highest deprivation were also more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage.
Experts say the UK is in the midst of a cancer crisis due to existing capacity issues which were exacerbated by the pandemic advice to ‘stay at home’.
Professor Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist, said the health service was seeing patients appearing with later stage cancers but that there would be a natural lag before death rates reflected this.
He said: ‘We’re still missing patients from 2020 and 2021 and now they’re coming forward but the capacity isn’t there to see them.
‘What we don’t know – and will have to wait three or four years for – is the death rate going up because it takes longer with cancer before you see the deaths.
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‘I think it will start going up for cancer in 2023 and 2024.
‘We know that people are presenting with stage three and four cancers and we know that as they present later, the survival figures are going to be poorer.’
Shortages in crucial departments such as radiology and endoscopy mean overstretched hospitals are struggling to provide the vital screening services needed for cancer, leading to delays in diagnosis.
Cancer performance data shows that just six in 10 cancer patients started treatment in October within two months of an urgent referral from their GP, the second-lowest logged since records began in 2009.
Yesterday’s report showed the lottery faced by patients awaiting a diagnosis with 83 per cent of breast cancer patients diagnosed before the cancer has advanced, compared to just a quarter of those with pancreatic cancer.
Prostate cancer, which the Daily Mail has campaigned on for 20 years, is only caught early in half of patients, according to the figures.
Earlier this week, leading cancer specialists warned these delays to diagnosis and treatment has already led to a 17 per cent increase in UK cancer deaths.
Further statistics show excess cancer deaths since March 2020 are already at 8,815, with 3,327 in the last six months, and this trend is ‘likely to continue’.
Writing in the Lancet Oncology journal, they described it as a ‘watershed moment’, adding that officials need to acknowledge the true scale of the problem and treat it with the same urgency as Covid.
NHS data from November showed in the last 12 months, 69,000 patients in the UK waited longer than the recommended 62 days from suspected cancer referral to the start of treatment – twice as many than in 2017-18.
Meanwhile, 13 per cent of patients with cancer in England waited more than 104 days to start treatment in September – double the advised maximum waiting time.
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘These figures provide further evidence of the immediate impact of Covid-19 in 2020, when we saw a decrease in the number of people coming forward for cancer checks, but early diagnosis rates recovered to pre-pandemic levels by July 2021 and, thanks to NHS campaigns to encourage people to come forward the NHS is diagnosing more cancers at an early stage than we ever did before the pandemic.’
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