UP to a quarter of some cancers have been missed during the Covid crisis – with nearly 50,000 cases undiagnosed, warn campaigners.
Macmillan Cancer Support said the scale of the cancer care backlog is “still to hit the NHS”.
There are several cancer warning signs you should never ignore
It claims 47,600 fewer Brits have been diagnosed with the disease compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The charity warns detection of prostate cancer has been hit the hardest.
Diagnoses are 23 per cent lower in England than expected, while pick up of multiple myeloma is down by 14 per cent, and breast cancer by 12 per cent.
Steven McIntosh, executive director of advocacy and communications at Macmillan Cancer Support, warns the NHS faces an “uphill battle”.
He said: “Nearly two years into the pandemic, there is still a mountain of almost 50,000 people who are missing a cancer diagnosis.
“Cancer patients are stuck, waiting in a system that doesn’t have the capacity to treat them fast enough, let alone deal with the backlog of thousands who have yet to come forward.
“It has never been more crucial to boost NHS capacity to treat and support everybody with cancer, so people receive the critical care they need now and in the years to come.”
The charity says it is “deeply concerned” about how cancer services will cope when patients are eventually diagnosed.
Already there are signs that the “missing cases” are coming forward in swathes.
Experts estimate the NHS would have to work at 110 per cent capacity for over a year to deal with the backlog.
The number of women diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer peaked at 148 per cent of the pre-pandemic average in February this year.
More and more people being diagnosed later, meaning they are likely to need more intensive treatment and support, and potentially affecting their chances of survival too.
Health bosses think many of the missed cases are due to Brits staying away from their GP during the peak of the pandemic for fear of catching Covid.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic cancer has been a priority for the NHS, and diagnosis and treatment numbers have been back at pre-pandemic levels since the spring, with record numbers of people being referred for investigation over the last six months.
“NHS staff have consistently gone above and beyond to support and care for patients, with 95 per cent of people starting treatment for cancer during the pandemic doing so within 31 days.
“It is important to emphasise that the NHS remains open and ready to care for you, so it’s vitally important that people experiencing cancer symptoms come forward and get checked.”
The 10 signs to never ignore
There are over hundreds of different types of cancer,
While some symptoms are specific, there are a handful that are more general or seen most frequently in cancer patients.
If you have any of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean you have the disease.
But it’s always worth checking with your GP as soon as possible.
1. Unexplained weight loss
The key here is “unexplained” weight loss – a disappearing beer belly for seemingly no reason.
Losing more than 10lbs without trying could be one of the first signs of cancers of the pancreas, stomach, oesophagus, or lungs.
2. Unusual swellings or lumps
Persistent lumps or swelling in any part of your body should be taken seriously.
That includes any lumps in the neck, armpit, stomach, groin, chest, breast or testicle.
Women should be extra vigilant and look for changes in their breasts, while men should check their balls regularly – this shouldn’t stop during the coronavirus pandemic.
3. Cough, cough
A persistent cough is not just a sign of Covid-19 – it could also be a symptom of cancer, especially if it doesn’t disappear after three or four weeks.
If you’re also short of breath and coughing up phlegm with signs of blood, it could be a sign of lung cancer.
4. Mole changes
We all know moles can be a sign of skin cancer, but lots of us have no clue of the changes to watch out for.
You need to be on the lookout for any new moles or any changes in the size, shape or colour of existing ones.
If they become crusty, bloody or seem to ooze any liquid, they also need to be checked out.
5. Blood in your poo or pee
Blood in your poo is one of the red-flag warning signs of bowel cancer – the second deadliest cancer in the UK.
That combined with a change in your toilet habits – going more often than normal, suffering more constipation, and anything else out of the ordinary for you – should kick you in gear to get checked out.
If you spot blood in your pee, it could be a sign of bladder or kidney cancer.
6. Pee problems
Dribbling, leaking, a desperate urge or waking up busting in the night, pain when you pee and struggling to pee all should ring alarm bells.
In men, it could mean prostate cancer, which rarely has symptoms but may cause lower back pain, pain in the rectum, hips or pelvis and erection problems.
Women should also look out for unexplained vaginal bleeding or “spotting” between periods, after sex or after the menopause.
7. Unexplained pain
If you have pain lasting longer than four weeks, unexplained pain, or pain that comes and goes – this is a key red-flag warning sign.
According to Cancer Research, most cancer pain is caused by the tumour pressing on bones, nerves or other organs in the body.
If you’re regularly suffering bouts of painful heartburn, or heartburn that doesn’t seem to go away, it’s important to get checked out.
It can be a sign of stomach or throat cancer.
9. Difficulties swallowing
If you feel as though food constantly keeps getting stuck when you’re eating and it’s sometimes uncomfortable or painful to swallow – you should get in touch with your GP.
In particular, it is the most common symptom of oesophageal cancer.
10. Heavy night sweats
Night sweats are an early symptom of a host of different cancers.
The most common type of cancer associated with night sweats is lymphoma.
This is a type of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system – a network of vessels and glands spread throughout your body.