While the UK has put all efforts into battling the epidemic of the novel coronavirus, cancer could claim up to 18,000 additional lives in England due to lack of diagnostics and treatment, a new study warns.

Delays in diagnosing and treating cancer could hurt the survival chances of thousands of people across England, joint research by University College London (UCL) and the Health Data Research Hub for Cancer (DATA-CAN) suggests. Scientists analyzed data from more than 3.5 million patients and discovered that the Covid-19 outbreak could indirectly lead to more than 17,900 extra cancer deaths within a year, including 6,270 fatal cases in newly diagnosed cancer patients.

The average drop in early cancer diagnosis referrals has already amounted to 76 percent, the study said, adding that chemotherapy attendance has also fallen by 60 percent in England.

“There are many factors operating here, including rapid changes to diagnosis and treatment protocols, social distancing measures, changes in people’s behavior in seeking medical attention, and [the] economic impact of Covid-19, as well as deaths due to Covid-19 infection,” said Professor Harry Hemingway, a senior author of the study and the director of UCL’s institute of health informatics.

The fact that people are reluctant to contact medics out of fear of contracting coronavirus even if they have some worrying symptoms also plays a role. A recent poll suggested that some 10 percent of people would not contact their general practitioners even if they had a lump or a new mole that didn’t disappear after a week.

One third of respondents were generally worried about seeking help during the epidemic. According to the scientists, this fact could also impact the projected mortality rate, particularly among cancer patients.

The developments prompted the National Health Service (NHS) to launch a campaign urging people with potentially serious illnesses to seek help and to attend hospitals when needed. Professor Peter Johnson, the NHS clinical director for cancer, also called on patients to contact medics and pointed to “Covid-free cancer hubs” providing necessary treatment in 19 areas across England.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK has meanwhile reached 162,350, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 21,700 people have died from Covid-19 nationwide.

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