Almost half of people with potential cancer symptoms did not speak to their GP during the first wave of the pandemic, a survey suggests.
There are now growing concerns that a flood of patients will come forward with symptoms that are worse than they could or should have been.
Patients have not gone to their doctor when they have noticed lumps and changes to the appearance of moles – or even when they have been coughing up blood.
A team from Cardiff University and Cancer Research UK made the findings as part of a study of 8,000 people.
Separate studies had shown a fall in hospital procedures for cancer – but this is the first extensive look at how the pandemic has impacted people’s initial contact with the NHS.
The team surveyed a representative sample of people across the UK recruited from two panels – HealthWise Wales and Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Awareness Measure – between March and August 2020.
Researchers found that of the 3,025 people who said they had experienced at least one symptom which could be a warning sign of cancer, 45% did not seek help.
They also found that:
- 31% did not seek help after coughing up blood
- 41% did not seek help for an unexplained lump or swelling
- 59% did not seek help after noticing changes to the appearance of a mole
Some of the reasons given by people who did not contact their GP were not wanting to waste doctors’ time or put extra strain on the NHS; not wanting to be seen as someone who made a fuss; and fear of catching Covid at appointments.
But people who did contact their GP reported feeling “safe” and “secure” when attending face-to-face appointments.
Prof Kate Brain, who led the study, said she was concerned that the message during the first lockdown, to protect the NHS, might have left the public might thinking “cancer can wait”.
She called for a concerted national campaign to encourage people to contact their GPs with urgent issues.