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Urgent action needed as one million cancer cases are undiagnosed in Europe due to Covid-19

Nearly one million cancer cases in Europe are being missed due to Covid-19, according to new data presented today by the European Cancer Organisation (E.C.O) Special Network on Covid-19 and Cancer, co-chaired by Professor Mark Lawler.

The findings, a stark reminder of the challenges facing cancer care services in Europe during the pandemic were presented virtually by Professor Lawler, Professor of Digital Health at Queen’s University Belfast, Co-Chair of E.C.O’s Special Network on the Impact of Covid-19 on Cancer and Scientific Director of DATA-CAN: the UK’s Health Data Research Hub for Cancer, to the Europe Beating Cancer Committee in the European Parliament in Brussels.

The study, led by E.C.O, reveals that the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that:

· An estimated one million cancer cases could be undiagnosed in Europe

· An estimated 100 million cancer screening tests were not performed in Europe during the pandemic, leading to later stage diagnoses and potential decreases in overall survival for cancer patients

· Up to 1 in 2 people with potential cancer symptoms were not urgently referred for diagnosis

· 1 in every 5 cancer patients in Europe is currently still not receiving the surgical or chemotherapy treatment that they need.

Professor Lawler said: “The scale of the problem is frightening – the disastrous impact of Covid-19 has meant that there are at least one million Europeans out there with a cancer that has not yet been diagnosed, and a further 1 in 5 of European cancer patients whose treatment has been delayed.

"We issue this urgent call to national governments across Europe. The Time to Act is Now. Without immediate action, the Covid-19 pandemic is poised to spark a cancer epidemic across Europe. We require innovative solutions to strengthen cancer systems and provide the best possible care to cancer patients in the United Kingdom and across Europe.”

The presentation of these data coincide with the launch of Time To Act, E.C.O’s Europe-wide campaign to urge the public, cancer patients, healthcare professionals, policy makers and national governments to ensure Covid-19 does not continue to undermine the fight against cancer.

The data from this study and the Time To Act campaign tools, available in over 30 languages, will be presented in a virtual event (Tuesday 11 May, 11:00-12:00 CEST), with contributions from European political leaders including EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, MEPs from the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) and the Director General of DG SANTE, Sandra Gallina.

Attending cancer screening appointments is critical to increasing the chance of early diagnosis when cancer can be more effectively treated. For cancer patients, treatment must not be delayed, and we encourage cancer patients to insist that their cancer treatment schedule is maintained.

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Photo: Professor Mark Lawler

Professor Mark Lawler

The Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research

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