UK-wide research to look at impact of Covid-19 on early cancer diagnosis

Researchers at Cardiff University have launched a UK-wide project to investigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on diagnosis of cancer.

The initial message to “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” and the suspension of cancer screening programmes sent a strong message that “cancer can wait”, said the researchers.

The 18-month research project will look at how these messages have affected people seeking medical help for early signs of cancer or for screening.

Working closely with researchers at Cancer Research UK, King’s College London and the University of Surrey, the study will look at public attitudes and behaviours, exploring key issues that could lead to more cancers occurring or being diagnosed at a late stage.

These may include people dismissing any symptoms as trivial, being reluctant to consult their GP due to fear of catching coronavirus and not taking part in healthy behaviours to reduce the chances of the disease.

The project will share rapid results with NHS, public health agencies and third sector organisations to help create new and relevant public health messaging to combat the issue.

Principal investigator Professor Kate Brain, a health psychologist from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said: “The impact of Covid-19 on UK public attitudes towards cancer – translating into delayed referrals, missed screening and late-stage cancer diagnosis – is likely to be considerable.

“From early on in the pandemic the ‘stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ message, along with the halting of national cancer screening programmes, sent a strong message to the public that ‘cancer can wait’.

“It’s important that we now look at how this has affected people’s attitudes and behaviours to all aspects of cancer – from putting off visiting their GP with worrying symptoms to missed screening.

“We hope our research will help to mitigate any negative effects of the pandemic on cancer attitudes and behaviour.

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