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Professor highlights effect of delays in the two-week-wait cancer referral pathway during COVID-19

Research led by the Institute for Cancer Research, and co-authored by Professor Mark Lawler, from Queen’s, on the effect of delays in the two-week-wait cancer referral pathway during the COVID-19 pandemic has been published in The Lancet Oncology.

corona virus under a microscope
The study showed that during lockdown, urgent two-week wait GP referrals in England for suspected cancer dropped by an average of 71% per cent – raising fears that undiagnosed cancers could be progressing from early stage tumours to advanced, incurable disease.
The researchers suggest the NHS needs to ramp up diagnostic capacity rapidly to avoid further unnecessary deaths – and might prioritise certain tumour types in which avoidance of delay is particularly impactful, such as bladder, kidney and lung cancer.
Commenting on the research, Professor Lawler, Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Digital Health at Queen's and DATA-CAN’s scientific lead, said: “Our findings in this paper, published in one of the world's premier cancer journals, indicate that the early warning system that we employ to confirm or dismiss the suspicion of cancer in our citizens is not functioning properly.  
“This current research and our use of real time data, that we have reported on previously and which featured in the recent Panorama programme, has shown that seven out of 10 people who may be at risk of developing cancer are being missed by the system. I want to emphasise that this is a UK-wide problem that must be addressed as a matter of urgency.  
“It is critically important that we get our ‘red flag’ referrals and cancer diagnostic services back to normal as quickly as possible, otherwise we will  fall further behind in our fight against cancer.”
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Photo: Professor Mark Lawler

Professor Mark Lawler

The Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research

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