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Fears breast cancer progress has slowed as pandemic stalls treatment

This news post is about 1 year old

Fewer patients being treated

Almost 1,000 fewer breast cancer patients in Scotland have started treatment in the last year, according to new analysis released by Cancer Research UK.

The analysis by the leading charity, which has been released as part of its new awareness campaign, also shows that overall since the pandemic began, an estimated 3,900 fewer people started treatment for all cancer types in Scotland.

Breast cancer represents almost a quarter of these ‘missing cancers’ in Scotland during the pandemic – over 70% more than what might be expected.

There are now fears that progress in breast cancer research, which had made huge strides, could slow down due to the impact of the pandemic on cancer services and on funding for cancer research.

Andy Glyde, Cancer Research UK’s senior external affairs manager for Scotland, said: “This new analysis gives a worrying insight into some serious issues that now exist within our health services due to the pandemic.

“Last year’s pause in breast cancer screening services, people putting off contacting their GP and the backlog of patients waiting for a diagnosis after having noticed a symptom, may have contributed to these ‘missing cancers’.

“Clearing the backlog of people waiting for tests will mean tackling staff shortages and investing in equipment to ensure cancer services are fit for the future. The NHS in Scotland also needs the capacity to treat people when they do finally enter the system.”

Since records began in the 1970s up to before the pandemic, death rates for breast cancer in Scotland had fallen by almost 40%. This is thanks to pioneering research which has played a part in helping doctors diagnose and treat breast cancer quickly and effectively.

In Scotland, scientists funded by Cancer Research UK’s supporters have played leading roles in the discovery of new breast cancer drugs and are currently working on new ways to detect breast cancer at an even earlier stage in women who are most at risk of developing it.

Glyde added: “From cell biology in the lab, to patient trials in hospitals, CRUK has helped to reduce breast cancer deaths.

“As a charity, COVID-19 has hit us hard, but we are more focused than ever on helping more people survive cancer. This past year proves, more than any other, the value of research and what can be achieved together. Just like science is our route out of the pandemic, science is our route to beating cancer.

“One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime. All of us can support the research that will beat it.”

Andy added: “It’s important that those with symptoms contact their GP and consider screening when invited. Doctors want to hear from them. And if you are finding it difficult to get an appointment, do keep trying. In most cases it won’t be cancer but it’s best to get it checked out because diagnosing cancer at an earlier stage means treatment is more likely to be successful.”

Mum-of-four Lynsey Ritchie (pictured) knows only too well how important it is to visit a doctor with suspicious symptoms.

The 44-year-old, of Denny, Stirlingshire, says she owes her life to the treatment she received after being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer almost two years ago.

Lynsey was breastfeeding her youngest son Odhran when she first visited her GP after noticing pain and a lump under her arm. Hospital tests showed there was also a lump in her breast.

Lynsey who is mum to Cailean, aged nine, Brodie, seven, Darragh, five, and Odhran, three, says she’s determined to play a part in Cancer Research UK’s campaign by helping raise awareness.

She said: “I can totally understand that people might not want to go to their doctor because of Covid. I could see how they could be put off and I do worry that I probably would have done the same if I’d found a lump in the last year. That feels really scary because if I hadn’t gone to my GP when I did then I wouldn’t be here today.

“The cancer I was diagnosed with was aggressive and, although I went to my doctor as soon as I found a lump, it had already spread. If I had waited, wondering whether to bother the doctor, it could have been too late.

“I’m lucky because I responded well to treatment and so I’m in remission. I feel so very blessed to be here for my boys. And they’re blessed to still have me. If I hadn’t gone to the doctor, things might have been very different.

“Covid hasn’t made cancer go away.

“A cancer diagnosis is life changing but it doesn't necessarily mean a death sentence.

“I’d say to anyone if you’re worried about something please take that step and go and see your doctor. Nine times out of 10, it won’t be anything to worry about but it’ll be better to know than to sit at home fretting about the unknown.”



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