Coronavirus: Lung cancers 'may have been misdiagnosed as COVID' during pandemic

·2-min read

The first wave of the coronavirus outbreak has had a huge impact on UK lung cancer patients' survival and detection rates, a report has said.

A third of patients have died since the beginning of the pandemic, experts said, while waiting for life-saving treatment while referrals for the deadly disease dropped by 75% during the first lockdown.

The UK Lung Cancer Coalition warned that "the catastrophe that is the COVID-19 pandemic" is likely to reverse improvements in survival rates made over the past 20 years.

A cough is a symptom for both illnesses, meaning some patients who could have lung cancer were told to stay home for fear they had coronavirus.

They were therefore being diagnosed at a later stage, significantly damaging their survival chances.

The report said: "GPs are likely to misdiagnose early lung cancer symptoms as COVID-19 because of the large number of COVID-19 cases."

Professor David Baldwin, respiratory medicine consultant at the University of Nottingham, said: "At least a third of patients with lung cancer have already died since the beginning of the pandemic.

"Some deaths will not have been recognised as lung cancer and may have even been labelled as COVID-19."

It said that in some areas referrals by GPs to lung cancer specialists fell by 75% during the peak of the outbreak in Spring.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, former director of the National Cancer Institute, said: "There is a specific problem for lung cancer, which is the overlap of symptoms with COVID-19.

"Some patients may develop cough symptoms and be told to stay at home until their symptoms get worse. This has resulted in an increase in late stage presentations."

Lung cancer is the UK's most deadly cancer, killing 35,300 each year - more than breast and bowel cancer combined.

Prompt referrals from a GP to hospital for a scan are crucial for lung cancer survival chances.

The report said: "With studies showing a 16% increase in mortality if the time from diagnosis to surgery is more than 40 days, a delay of three months or more can mean the progression from a potentially curative tumour towards one that is only suitable for palliative care."

It added: "It is estimated that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to an additional 1,372 deaths due to lung cancer, reversing the progress achieved in lung cancer over recent years."

Detection and referral rates of breast cancer have also been affected by the pandemic, NHS England said in June.

The Department of Health urged people to come forward if they have lung cancer symptoms.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs on Tuesday "the number of people experiencing a long wait for cancer treatment has been brought down by 63% since its peak in July".