THE number of people being diagnosed with bowel cancer dropped by 40 per cent during the coronvirus pandemic, a study has revealed.
Experts also revealed that those diagnosed with the cancer between 15 March 2020 and 28 February 2021 were older, had more complications and had a more advanced stage of the disease.
Bowel cancer is the second deadliest form of the disease in the UK, but it can be cured if it’s caught early enough.
Early diagnosis saves lives and is why Central Recorder launched the No Time 2 Lose campaign in April 2018, calling on the Government to lower the screening age for the disease from 60 to 50.
The new research, published in EMOTIVE, shows that during the pandemic there was also a fall in the number of colonoscopies being performed.
A colonoscopy is a test which checks inside of your bowels to see what is causing symptoms.
Typical bowel cancer symptoms include a change in bowel habits and abdominal pain bought on by eating.
The research was conducted across multiple hospitals in Spain and found that of 1,385 cases diagnosed over two years, a third were diagnosed pre-pandemic from 24,860 colonoscopies.
This compares to 517 cases that were diagnosed during the pandemic, which saw a 27 per cent drop in the number of colonoscopies being performed.
The experts say the drop off in diagnosis is due to the suspension of screening programmes and the postponement of non-urgent colonoscopy investigations during the pandemic.
Covid meant that many services had to be postponed and as a result, the study found that fewer bowel cancers were identified – with just 4.3 per cent having been found compared to 21 per cent in the year before the pandemic.
However, the experts also said that more patients were diagnosed as a result of coming forward with their symptoms – accounting for 81.2 per cent of diagnoses compared to 69 per cent in the year before the pandemic.
Dr María José Domper Arnal, from the Service of Digestive Diseases, University Clinic Hospital and lead author of the study said the findings were ‘very worrying’.
She explained: “Cases of colorectal cancer undoubtedly went undiagnosed during the pandemic.
“Not only were there fewer diagnoses, but those diagnosed tended to be at a later stage and suffering from more serious symptoms.”
Know the signs: What are the five bowel cancer symptoms you need to know?
Here are the five main bowel cancer symptoms you need to know.
- Bleeding: There are several possible causes of bleeding from your bottom, of blood in your poo. Bright red blood could come from swollen blood vessels, haemorrhoids or piles, in your back passage. Dark red or black blood could come from your bowel or stomach.
- Change in loo habits: It’s important to tell your GP if you have noticed any changes in your bowel habits, that lasts three weeks or longer. It’s especially important if you have also noticed signs of blood in your poo.
- Weight loss: This is less common than the other symptoms, but an important one to be aware of. If you’ve lost weight and don’t really know why, it’s worth mentioning to your GP. You may not feel like eating, feel sick, bloated and not hungry.
- Feeling tired: Bowel cancer that causes bleeding can cause a lack of iron in the body – anaemia. If you develop anaemia you’re likely to feel tired and your skin might look pale.
- Pain or lump: As with lots of other forms of cancer, a lump or pain can be a sign of bowel cancer. It’s most likely you’ll notice a pain or lump in your stomach or back passage. See your GP if it doesn’t go away, or if it affects how you eat or sleep.
While many cases were missed, the study found that there was also an increase in the number of patients being diagnosed with complication due to their cases being discovered at such a late stage.
There was an increase in patients displaying symptoms such as bowel perforation, abscesses, bowel obstruction and bleeding requiring hospital admission.
Before the pandemic these cases made up 10.6 per cent of cases and during the pandemic it rose to 14.7 per cent.
Dr José Domper Arnal said that although these figures were taken from the 1.3 million population in Spain – it’s likely that rates are similar across the globe.
She said: “Colorectal cancer is often curable if it’s caught at an early stage. Our concern is that we’re losing the opportunity to diagnose patients at this early stage, and this will have a knock-on effect on patient outcomes and survival. We are likely to see this fall out for years to come.”
We pay for your stories!
Do you have a story for Central Recorder news desk?