Between April and October 2020, over 3,500 fewer patients than expected were diagnosed with bowel cancer in England. Since bowel cancer is more likely to be curable if it is detected at an early stage, these results suggest that many patients, whose diagnosis has yet to be made, may die unnecessarily. The results are published today in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology.
The research was carried out by a team of clinicians and academic researchers from across the UK, including from the University of Leeds and the University of Newcastle.
For this study, the researchers assessed the patterns of referral for bowel cancer investigation, diagnosis and treatment within the English NHS from 1 January 2019 to 31 October 2020.
The results showed that, compared with an average month in 2019, during April 2020 at the peak of the first wave of coronavirus:
- the monthly number of referrals by GPs to hospital clinics for investigation of possible bowel cancer reduced by 63% (from 36,274 to 13,440);
- the number of colonoscopies performed fell by 92% (from 46,441 to 3,484); and
- the monthly number of people with confirmed bowel cancer referred for treatment fell by 22% (from 2,781 to 2,158), and the number of operations performed fell by 31% from (2,003 to 1,378).
This is the first study to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the diagnosis and management of bowel cancer across England.