A new report from the UKLCC estimates that delays in diagnosis caused by COVID-19 lockdowns may result in a drop of up to 5.3% in 5-year survival in England

lung cancer xray

The UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) has published a new report, The route back to 25 by 25, which states that hard-won gains in improving lung cancer outcomes are now in jeopardy, with ‘thousands of additional lung cancer deaths’ feared as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Prior to the pandemic, real progress was being made in raising 5-year survival rates’, said Professor Robert Rintoul, Chair of the UKLCC’s Clinical Advisory Group and Professor of Thoracic Oncology at the University of Cambridge. ‘But COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on early diagnosis of lung cancer and has compromised our target of driving up 5-year UK survival to 25% by 2025.’

Professor Rintoul added:‘Lung cancer patients have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Government guidance to stay at home with a cough, reluctance to engage with healthcare services during lockdown, and pressures on already overburdened health services have inevitably resulted in a fall in referrals and increase in late-stage presentations of the disease. We need to take urgent action to get back on track.’

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death in the UK, accounting for more than one-fifth of all UK cancer deaths (21%), and causing the deaths of 35,100 people each year. Lung cancer in never smokers is the eighth most common cause of cancer-related death in the UK. The UK has one of the poorest 5-year lung cancer survival rates in Europe.

The report estimates that delays in diagnosis caused by COVID-19 lockdowns may result in a drop of up to 5.3% in 5-year survival in England—from 17.6% (for patients diagnosed between 2014 and 2018), to around 12.3% for those diagnosed during the pandemic. This may equate to over 2500 additional deaths in the UK.

In the report, the UKLCC looks beyond the impact of the first wave of the pandemic, and provides a series of recommendations that offer a route back to delivering its 2016 ambition to increase 5-year lung cancer survival to 25% by 2025.

First, the report demands a ‘levelling up’ of services for lung cancer in the UK, with a fully funded screening programme across all four nations. In addition, the UKLCC calls for twice-yearly national and regional public awareness campaigns, linked to a dedicated lung cancer helpline, to ensure easy access to support and diagnosis for patients without placing an additional burden on primary care.

Other key recommendations in the report include:

  • alongside surgery, the NHS should invest in stereotactic ablative radiotherapy to enable widespread access to curative treatments for lung cancer
  • to address workforce shortages, the Government needs to invest in training for all disciplines in the lung cancer multidisciplinary team
  • access to more near real-time data on lung cancer must be improved
  • patients with advanced disease should be monitored to see how access to immunotherapy is impacting survival outcomes.

Martin Grange, Chair of the UKLCC, said: ‘It has been heartbreaking to see the hard work and achievements of those involved in lung cancer care impacted so enormously by COVID-19. We must rally together and ensure that the pre-pandemic progress in lung cancer outcomes was not in vain.’ 

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