Delayed cancer diagnoses

May 4, 2020 • Reading time 2 minutes

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Published 5 May 2020

The UK has the highest number of reported Covid-19 deaths – mainly this seems to be due to a lag in lockdown and potentially less social distancing. 

Cancer mortality in the UK is also higher than in most other countries in Europe and maybe getting worse due to Covid-19 (the third wave of deaths). 

Over the last decade, there has been a steady rise in the number of cancers that are diagnosed following a “Two Week Wait” (TWW) referral. This is an urgent referral, usually from a GP. Over 30% of cancers (about 12,500 per month) are diagnosed following this type of referral and survival rates are significantly higher than emergency presentations – see chart below.

So it is deeply worrying that these TWW referrals fell by an estimated 80% in April.

Even assuming twice the detection rate for the referrals that do happen, this could mean 7,500 cancers are undetected during the lockdown. If these diagnoses and their following treatments are delayed by three months, this could lead to nearly a year of life lost (on average) per diagnosed patient. Or 6,800 life-years in total.* 

Increasing capacity for diagnostics and treatments is essential, but referral pathways also need to be restored urgently.  

* For a 6-week delay, lost life-years would be reduced to 3,400. 


Edge Health are a specialist UK healthcare analytics consultancy that use data and insights to improve the delivery of health and care services, so that better outcomes can be delivered more efficiently.