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Specialists fear virus might fuel huge surge in cancer deaths

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Deaths from cancer could rise by a fifth over the next year as a result of the coronavirus crisis, an expert has warned.

Scores of routine hospital treatments and consultations have been cancelled as a result of the pandemic.

Cancer research specialist Dr Charlie Davie, of DATA-CAN, a national cancer research hub, said about four out of 10 cancer patient’s treatment has been affected.

Dr Davie, originally from Glasgow, said: “Deaths by cancer will rise by 20% over the next year. People are being scared off going to hospital.”

In 2017, 16,105 people died of cancer in Scotland, suggesting there may be more than 3,000 additional deaths next year. He added: “We urge anyone with suspicious bleeding or lumps to see their GPs or consult NHS websites for advice.”

He said new practices would have to be adopted to allow consultations to resume, adding: “The NHS will evolve into something new whereby more patients will be seen remotely with video consultations.”

Dr Jonine Figueroa, Associate Professor of Cancer Epidemiology at Edinburgh University’s Usher Institute, said: “We will only know with time if there are long-term impacts and increased number of deaths to patients who may have delayed cancer diagnoses.

Dr Jonine Figueroa

“I know that clinical colleagues are extremely worried about the numbers of those who are waiting for treatment – those who have been diagnosed awaiting surgery and those who have not reported suspicious symptoms to their GPs.”

Cancer Research UK’s head of external affairs, Marion O’Neill, said: “With the number of suspected cancer cases being left unseen stacking up, we need plans soon to urgently address how an already struggling NHS system will get through these as swiftly as possible.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: “It may be some time before we fully understand the long-term effects of the coronavirus outbreak for breast cancer patients in Scotland, but what we do know is that many women are experiencing changes to their care and this is causing real uncertainty and anxiety about the possible impacts.

“It is concerning that there has been a significant drop in referrals to get potential signs of cancer checked out in Scotland.”