Today, MPs were informed that telling patients suffering from coughs not to use NHS facilities during Covid resulted in a “devastating” halt to progress against the disease.

Experts gathered to testify about the effects of the pandemic on cancer treatment. 

Politicians were informed that patients suffering from lung cancer, one the UK’s most fatal diseases, had been left undiagnosed and likely to have died. 

It was claimed that it mirrors the early 1990s situation, before medical breakthroughs. In this time period people suffering from lung cancer were diagnosed when they could not be saved.  

Professor David Baldwin, chair of the Lung Cancer Clinical Expert Group, said No10’s guidance discouraged people with a hallmark symptom of the disease from seeking medical help. 

Professor David Baldwin chair of the Lung Cancer Clinical Expert Group said lunch caner diagnosis and treatment had gone back 25 years over the Covid pandemic due to the impact of catching lung cancer too late

Professor David Baldwin, chair of The Lung Cancer Clinical Expert Group stated that treatment for lunch caner was 25 years earlier than the Covid pandemic. This is due to the effect of being too late in catching the disease.

Cancer treatment times were already lagging before the pandemic but fell off a cliff when Covid disruption ripped through the health service, and are still yet to recover

Although cancer treatment was slow in the past, it dropped off the cliff after the Pandemic.

He said, “The Covid epidemic has demonstrated what can happen when early diagnosis is blocked and scans are not available.”

“It allowed lung cancer patients to stay at home more frequently, so we saw a 69% reduction in referrals. We were able to reduce the incidence of lung cancer by 30% and see no recovery.

“These poor people weren’t diagnosed with lung carcinoma, but they likely had it. They were also not given a second diagnosis and passed away without any further treatment.

A key aspect of lung cancer survival is early diagnosis. The five-year survival rate for this disease, 57% if caught in its earliest stages, drops to 3% if it’s discovered later.

Professor Baldwin compared the current situation to being a nurse 25 years ago and seeing cancer patients who were only discovered at an advanced stage. 

He described it as “working 20 to 25 years back…late stage diseases, horrendous presentations, all of the things that were actually forgotten because we’d made such great progress in this early diagnostics pathway,” he stated. 

Some MPs said the fact that lung cancer care standards had reversed to such an extent during the pandemic was 'socking'. (Pictured chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, and former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt)

Some MPs claimed that the fact that the standards for lung cancer treatment were so much lower than they had been during the pandemic, was “socking”. (Photo: Jeremy Hunt, former Health Secretary, and chair of Health and Social Care Committee.  

What is Lung Cancer? 

Lung cancer can be deadly and is the most prevalent type of cancer. 

Each year, around 47,000 are diagnosed with this condition in the UK.

Although there are no symptoms or signs in the initial stages of lung cancer (most people will not experience any symptoms), many sufferers eventually get symptoms, including:

Constant cough

You can cough up blood

– persistent breathlessness

Unexplained fatigue and weight loss

A pain or ache in the chest or throat that occurs when you are coughing or breathing.

If you experience these symptoms, it is a good idea to see a doctor.

There are many types of lung carcinoma 

Primary lung cancer can be divided into two types. 

They are classified according to the kind of cancer that is growing in the cells. 

They include:

– Non-small-cell lung cancer. It is the most widespread form and accounts for over 87 percent of cases. 

It could be either squamous-cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma.

– Small-cell lung cancer – a less common form that usually spreads faster than non-small-cell lung cancer.

Treatments are recommended based on the type of lung cancer.

Who are the affected

The majority of people with lung cancer are older. People younger than 40 are less likely to get it. 

Over four in ten people with lung cancer are over 75 years old.

Even though people can get lung cancer even if they have not smoked, the main cause is smoking. Smoking accounts for around 72 percent of lung cancer cases. 

Smoking can lead to the inhalation of a variety toxic substances.

Treating lung cancer

Your treatment depends on what type of cancer you have, where it has spread and your general health.

Surgery to remove cancerous cells from the lung can be performed if the disease is detected early.

Radiation therapy to kill the cancerous cells can be used if you are unable to undergo surgery due to health concerns.

If cancer is too advanced for radiotherapy or surgery, chemotherapy may be used.

Targeted therapies are another name for medicines. 

The cancer cells are targeted for a particular change that will help them grow. 

Although targeted therapies can’t cure lung cancer, they may slow the spread of it.

Source: NHS 

“It was devastating to see the results of all the hard work that we have done in the past few years gone.”

He stated that the crisis could be ‘fixed’ and said: ‘We cannot allow this to pass without there being something positive out of it.

Professor Baldwin stated that patients need better access to CT scans at diagnostic centers, as these are responsible for diagnosing the majority of cancers. 

He stated that the early detection initiatives such as the appeals to people who have symptoms should be considered and connected to the referral procedure that will provide a CT scan for the patient and then on to appropriate treatment.

He said, “Scan them. That’s the first thing. Once they’re scanned, move along the path as quickly as you can.” 

MPs described the description Professor Baldwin made of the patient experience as “shocking”

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, with almost 50,000 people diagnosed every year — the equivalent of 130 every day. 

The Covid pandemic caused disruptions in cancer screening and referrals as well as treatment services. Both the NHS had to close wards that were used to treat the virus-infected patients, and specialists were called in. 

Over the course of the pandemic tens of thousands fewer people with suspected cancers were referred to a specialist than expected, with the number of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments also radically reduced. 

Today, MPs questioned witnesses from charities and the NHS about the reasons for the variation in quality and speed in England’s cancer treatment.

They were told that the treatment options for patients with cancer in England varied widely. 

Anna Jewell is chair of Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce. She also warns of “really concerning levels” of variation in England’s treatment of cancer.

Ms Jewell said there was a 40 to 65 per cent difference  for pancreatic cancer patients being offered chemotherapy after surgery which can reduce the chance of the cancer returning, depending what area of England they lived in.

The inconsistency of enzyme replacement therapy to pancreatic cancer patients, which is a treatment that is meant to maintain their health and allow them to continue care, was also noted by her.

She stated that only 50% of patients are eligible for enzyme replacement therapy, when it should be closer to 100%. 

 MPs also heard from 34-year-old mother Katy Hall, who detailed her cancer battle to the committee. 

After a three-month delay, Ms. Hall was forced to stop her treatment for cancer. 

“I was called to the hospital, and my first words were: “It’s different from what we thought” and that was when I was told it was cancer. 

“My two-year-old son is just starting school. That’s my ultimate goal.” 

Asking MPs for her message to Government or the NHS, Ms. Hall stated that it was important to end treating cancer in a “one-size fits all” fashion. 

She said, “Because I wasn’t male and older than a certain Age… the right scans were not done at the beginning when my cancer was discovered.”

‘Cancer doesn’t have a  one size fits all approach and if someone is going to the GP, someone is going to hospital and something if found, do the test, get that early diagnoses.

“That can make all the difference in whether someone lives to see their children go to school.”

The incidence of kidney cancer is twice that in middle-aged women, and the vast majority are in older people in their 80s. 

Every year in the UK, there are around 13,300 kidney cancer cases. That’s about 36 cases per day.  

Health and Social Care Committee plans to publish its findings on cancer care in England by the beginning of next year.