Research supported by medtech firm shows impact of Covid on cancer diagnoses

Dr Shaun O’Hanlon, chief medical officer at Leeds-based EMIS
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Medtech business EMIS is supporting a study of cancer in children and young adults in England with anonymised GP records. The research has found that cancer diagnoses during the Covid-19 pandemic dropped by 17% compared to the three preceding years.

The research, presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Festival on Friday also shows that children who were diagnosed with cancer during the first wave of the pandemic were more likely to have been admitted to intensive care prior to their diagnosis.

These findings suggest Covid-19 has had a detrimental effect on early diagnosis of cancer in children and young people.

The project led by Dr Defne Saatci from the University of Oxford, used the QResearch database of over 35 million anonymised GP patient records held on the EMIS clinical computer system.

Saatchi said: “Spotting cancer early and starting treatment promptly gives children and young people the best chance of surviving. We already know that the Covid-19 pandemic led to worrying delays in diagnosis and treatment for many adults with cancer, so we wanted to understand how the pandemic affected children’s cancer services.”

Reachers looked at the numbers of different cancers diagnosed in children and young adults up to the age of 25 in the first wave of the pandemic, between 1 February and 15 August 2020. They compared this with diagnoses during the same time period in the three preceding pre-pandemic years. They also looked at the amount of time between diagnosis and the start of treatment and whether patients were diagnosed after being admitted to intensive care.

During the first wave, the researchers found there had been an approximately 17% drop in the number of patients who were diagnosed with a brain tumour, lymphoma, leukaemia, sarcoma or renal tumour when compared to previous years.

They also saw that the average time between diagnosis and the start of treatment was slightly shorter during the first Covid-19 wave but that children were more than twice as likely to be admitted to intensive care before their cancer was diagnosed.

Dr Shaun O’Hanlon, chief medical officer at Leeds-based EMIS, said: “This is an important piece of research using real-life GP data to better understand the deficit in care caused by the pandemic – a critical area for the NHS to address as it moves forward.

“I am grateful to the GP practices who continue to support QResearch, enabling researchers to gain vital insights which offer the possibility for targeted action and recovery.”