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Estimated impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer services and excess deaths of people with cancer

23rd November 2020

A joint paper by the UCL Institute of Health Informatics and DATA-CAN on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer services has now been published on BMJ Open.

A joint paper by the UCL Institute of Health Informatics and DATA-CAN on the estimated impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer services and excess deaths of people with cancer has now been published on BMJ Open. The paper, which was originally published as a preprint in April 2020, analysed real-time data from cancer centres across the UK to give a detailed insight into the effect of the pandemic on cancer services and cancer patients.

The research found a decline in urgent referrals for cancer (70 per cent decrease) and chemotherapy attendances (40 per cent decrease) during the initial lockdown period (March-May). By the end of May, these declines had only partially recovered. Using these findings, the researchers estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic could directly and indirectly cause thousands of additional deaths in cancer patients – between 7,165 and 17,910 excess deaths.

Dr Charlie Davie, Director of DATA-CAN, said, “Our paper shows that there have been significant diagnostic and treatment delays as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst we have seen some positive recovery in urgent referrals and chemotherapy appointments, it may be that just getting back to pre-COVID-19 levels will not be enough. Data can help the NHS to understand the impact of COVID-19 on cancer services and help us to respond to make sure that cancer patients receive timely care.”

Dr Alvina Lai, lecturer in Health Data Analytics at UCL and report author, said, “By collecting and analysing real-time data from NHS cancer centres during the early stages of the COVID-19 emergency, we were able to monitor the impact on cancer patients as the pandemic unfolded. Our analysis is helping the NHS to better understand the situation across the UK and prioritise tests and treatments for those most at risk.”

Professor Mark Lawler, DATA-CAN’s Scientific Lead, said, “Our work has been critical in highlighting the adverse impact of COVID-19 on cancer services and cancer patients. The cancer intelligence that we generated contributed to the restoration of cancer services in the UK. The work has also had pan-European impact, underpinning the 7 Point Plan of the European Cancer Organisation to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on cancer across Europe. We need to ensure that cancer does not become the forgotten C in the fight against COVID-19.”

Download the paper on BMJ Open here – Estimated impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer services and excess 1-year mortality in people with cancer and multimorbidity: near real-time data on cancer care, cancer deaths and a population-based cohort study.