NHS figures have shown that 246,000 people came forward for cancer tests in November, more than three times more when compared to the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020.
The worryingly high figures could be due to people putting off hospital and doctor visits during the pandemic, with previous research finding that nearly half of people said they would delay coming forward for cancer checks due to not wanting to be a burden on the already pressured NHS.
Dame Cally Palmer, National Cancer Director for NHS England, said: “We are going further and faster than ever before in our ambitions to catch more cancers at an earlier stage so that we can save more lives.
“From cancer symptom hotlines to rapid triage, NHS staff are working hard to ensure that those who are coming forward for checks can be seen quickly, so that cancer can be caught at an earlier stage”.
The NHS target of treating those who need it within a month of diagnosis has not fallen below 90 percent despite increasing demand on the health service and rollout of the vaccination programme.
In 2021, the NHS pledged £20 million in investment to be spent on speeding up cancer diagnosis and put COVID protected cancer surgery hubs and treatment centres in place to protect patients with weakened immune systems.
Professor Peter Johnson, NHS England National Clinical Director for Cancer, said: “When coronavirus first emerged, we saw patient numbers drop dramatically as people stayed away because of fear of the virus, or because they didn’t want to burden the NHS, despite experiencing cancer symptoms – but it’s vital people continue to come forward.
“The NHS continued cancer care throughout the pandemic and that remains the same. So, if you have a sign or symptom, such as a persistent cough that is not COVID, or prolonged discomfort in the abdomen, please come forward – we are open and ready to see and treat you.
“Coming forward and getting checked out could save your life”.