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Delayed cancer scans raise fears over late detection

The backlog of cancer scans delayed due to Covid-19 has caused great concern that many who have cancer will find out too late. 

The backlog of cancer scans delayed due to Covid-19 has caused great concern that many who have cancer will find out too late. 

Analysis has shown that 4.4 million fewer scans were performed between April and September this year than in 2019. Figures show one in seven people across the UK has been waiting for three months for a scan, with the NHS now making efforts to catch up with the backlog of postponed appointments

Cancer Research UK is worried those people going for scans now could get a worse result than if they had received the scan earlier. 

Jody Moffatt, head of early diagnosis for Cancer Research UK, told the BBC that "those patients could be diagnosed with a more aggressive, later-stage cancer."

"There is a cohort of patients out there that have not been diagnosed yet - and who knows what state they will be in when they are."

One such person whose concerns became a reality is Toni Cunnington. Due to a genetic condition, the mother of four suspected cancer and booked an appointment in March. The appointment was cancelled, and she is now enduring aggressive chemotherapy for a stage-four cancerous lymphoma.

She believes that, if the cancer were caught earlier, she would not be suffering as much as she is now. She had white blood cells removed from her lungs in November and uses a wheelchair as the chemotherapy makes her too weak to walk. 

Speaking to the BBC, she said, "I feel like my life isn't worth as much as a Covid patient."

"I just don't want to leave my children and I don't want to die. I'm not ready to die, I just really wish it was caught early."

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) and the British Institute for Radiology (BIR) reported they were told to cancel nonessential appointments at the end of March, and that this was the reason for the significant fall in the number of scans. 

Both organisations agreed that the pandemic made the shortage of staff and facilities worse. They said there was already a lack of scanners in the UK and a shortfall of 6,000 radiologists. 

A representative from RCR said, with the influx of Covid-19 patients, smaller hospitals had to limit their appointments as they only had access to one MRI scanner because the equipment had to be readily available for patients with coronavirus. He added that radiologists were allocated to other wards to help in other parts of the hospital. 

Dr William Ramsden, Vice-president of the RCR, said, "The trouble is, because of our capacity issues, because of our workforce issues, we can't get through the work as fast as we'd like."

Currently, there are 1.27 million people on the waiting list for one of 15 key diagnostic tests. Last year, this list totalled 250,000. 

An NHS spokesperson has said that CT scans were now back to the same levels as last year and that MRI scans were back up to 88% of the scans in comparison to last October. They also added that appointments with GPs were now up to "well above usual levels". 

He relayed that the NHS continues to urge the public to "come forward and get the care you need."

Zara Tunnicliffe

Zara Tunnicliffe

Writing has allowed Zara to learn about topics and explore further those that interest her. Zara creates a range promotional copy for events as well as content for a variety of websites and social media platforms. Zara always look forward to researching interesting topics and sharing them with others through her writing.