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Pandemic delays cancer testing and treatment.

About 2.4 million people in the UK are waiting for cancer screening, treatment or tests, as a result of disruption to the NHS during the pandemic lockdown, according to Cancer Research UK.

The charity estimates that 2.1m people have missed out on screening, while 290,000 with suspected symptoms have not been referred for hospital tests. It adds that more than 23,000 cancers could have gone undiagnosed during lockdown.

Cancer Research UK's figures are based on data for England and estimated for the whole of the UK.

During lockdown, the health service focused on the care and treatment of patients with Covid-19, while other services, such as cancer care, were scaled back.

People were still encouraged to seek medical help when they needed it but there were fewer cancer operations and many chemotherapy and radiotherapy appointments were postponed.

Screening programmes that detect early signs of bowel, breast and cervical cancer were paused in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, although not officially stopped in England.

The charity says urgent referrals, when patients with suspected cancer symptoms are referred to hospitals by their GP, fell by up to 75% in the first four weeks of lockdown, although these figures have since improve.

The numbers of patients receiving cancer treatments also fell with 6,000 fewer people receiving chemotherapy and 2,800 fewer receiving radiotherapy during the 10-week lockdown.

Cancer Research UK estimates that there were only 60% - 12,800 fewer - of the usual number of operations to remove tumours.

Chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said Covid-19 had placed an enormous strain on cancer services. She said: “The NHS has had to make very hard decisions to balance risk and there have been some difficult discussions with patients about their safety and ability to continue treatment during this time.

"Prompt diagnosis and treatment remain crucial to give people with cancer the greatest chances of survival and prevent the pandemic taking even more lives."

Cancer Research UK said that to ensure no-one is put at risk from coronavirus now that cancer care is returning: "frequent testing of NHS staff and patients, including those without symptoms is vital.”

The charity estimates that up to 37,000 tests for the virus would need to be carried out each day for this purpose if the NHS was back running as normal.

This is happening at different speeds across the UK, with the setting up of safe Covid-free spaces in hospitals to address the patient backlog.

NHS England said coronavirus had turned millions of lives upside down but cancer services were now largely "open, ready and able to receive all patients who need care."

Macmillan Cancer Support recently warned of a potential "ticking cancer time bomb" due to disrupted cancer services.

Head of policy, Sara Bainbridge, said: "We continue to urge the government to set out exactly how it will support the NHS to rapidly rebuild cancer services, including how people will be protected from infection by ensuring there is enough staff, regular testing, plentiful supplies of PPE and social distancing."