Telling people to stay at home with a cough during the pandemic has led to people with lung cancer being diagnosed too late, according to a report.
The UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) said improvements in survival that were occurring before Covid-19 are now in “jeopardy” unless urgent action is taken.
It estimates that delays in diagnosis caused by Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions may result in a drop of up to 5.3% in five-year survival in England.
The proportion of people living at least five years could drop from 17.6% (for patients diagnosed 2014 to 2018) to around 12.3% for those diagnosed during the pandemic, it said.
The coalition warned this may lead to more than 2,500 extra deaths in the UK.
Professor Robert Rintoul, chair of the UKLCC’s clinical advisory group, said: “Prior to the pandemic, real progress was being made in raising five-year survival rates.
“But Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on early diagnosis of lung cancer and has compromised our target of driving up five-year UK survival to 25% by 2025.
“Lung cancer patients have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
“Government guidance to stay at home with a cough, reluctance to engage with healthcare services during lockdown, and pressures on already over-burdened health services have inevitably resulted in a fall in referrals and increase in late-stage presentations of the disease.
“We need to take urgent action to get back on track.”
The UKLCC’s report is calling for a national screening programme across the UK as well as twice-yearly national and regional public awareness campaigns linked to a dedicated lung cancer helpline.
Lung cancer is the most common cause of death in the UK, accounting for around 35,100 deaths every year.
About 80% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking, with many others caused by exposure to second-hand smoke.
However, around 10 to 15% of lung cancers in the UK occur in people who have never smoked.