Focusing solely on the current Covid-19 pandemic could "precipitate a future cancer epidemic", researchers from Ireland and Europe have warned.
Research from Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Split in Croatia and King’s College London has shown that the response to the outbreak of Covid-19 is "significantly affecting the treatment and care of patients with cancer".
The research, published in the European Journal of Cancer, found delays in urgent referrals and patients having their cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy postponed, or surgery being delayed.
Professor Mark Lawler of Queen’s University Belfast and the senior author on the paper said: “We are already seeing the indirect effects of the Covid-19 crisis on cancer care.
"Urgent referral numbers are dropping, endoscopies and other surgical procedures are being postponed and many cancer specialists are being redirected to Covid-19 specific care.
"If we don’t act, we risk the unintended consequence of the current Covid-19 pandemic precipitating a future cancer epidemic.”
The research also found less people are seeking advice on new symptoms of a possible cancer, including abnormal bleeding or new lumps on the body, as their psychological focus is biased towards self-examining for Covid-19 symptoms.
Oncology professor Eduard Vrdoljak in Croatia and Lead Author on the paper said: “I am extremely worried. We are experiencing significant challenges.
"People’s fear of attending any health facility, coupled with their minds being more focused towards Covid-19 symptoms, mean that they may downplay rectal or bladder bleeding, a lump in the breast or other signs of cancer that otherwise would lead them immediately to consult their doctor.
"We are starting to see people who may be at risk of developing cancer fearing a Covid-19 diagnosis more than a cancer diagnosis.”
The research team said that there were 3.7 million new diagnoses in Europe each year and over 1.9 million deaths.
The 1.9 million figure may increase significantly, directly as a result of the current crisis, they added.
They pointed to data that showed there has been a greater than 20% drop in the use of cancer drugs in the first quarter of 2020 in Wuhan, where Covid-19 was first reported.
Professor Richard Sullivan of King’s College London and fellow author said: “The focus on Covid-19 through 24-hour news cycle and social media, has dramatically changed our emotional and social infrastructure."