CANCER SURVIVORS MONTH DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: THE ROLE OF C THE SIGNS

Tuesday 16th June 2020

This month is Cancer Survivors Month. This is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate those who have survived cancer and also to bring hope to those currently with the disease. It is so important that people with cancer and their families do not see their diagnosis as a death sentence and have justified hope. 

And in many cases, hope stems from early diagnosis. It is now well known that early diagnosis is key to increasing survival. It is vital that everyone is educated on the early, and often vague, signs and symptoms of cancer so that people present early to their GP. But it is also equally important that GPs have the resources to ensure that these vague signs and symptoms are recognised as potential cancer. 

Cancer survival in the UK has doubled in the last 40 years, from just 24% to 50%. This is fantastic progress. However, there is huge variation in survival between cancer types. For example, nearly all men with testicular cancer survive their disease. If we look at stage, if diagnosed at stage 1, almost all men survive at least five years after diagnosis. But, if diagnosed at stage 4, approximately 80% of  men survive for five years or more. In contrast, if pancreatic cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, between 7 and 25% of people will survive for five years or more. Yet if pancreatic cancer is diagnosed at stage 4, the median survival is just 2-6 months. 

It is shocking to see the vast contrast in survival between cancer types. However, the significant impact early diagnosis has on survival chances, regardless of cancer type, is clear. 

Early diagnosis increases your chances of surviving for longer. Early diagnosis fosters justified hope.

Our wonderful charity supporters are working incredibly hard, not only to ensure tailored support, advice and resources are available for those affected by cancer, but they also are working to educate the general population on the early signs and symptoms of cancer in the hope that people will present to their GPs earlier.

At C the Signs, we are supporting the next step of early diagnosis. The C the Signs tool supports GPs to identify the often vague signs and symptoms of cancer earlier so that people are referred for further tests and investigations earlier and therefore have greater chances of surviving for longer. Several other features of the tool ensure people are never ‘lost in the system’ and that everyone who presents with possible signs and symptoms receives the care they need.

And now it is even more important to emphasise the importance of early diagnosis with much of the work done in recent years at risk of being undone due to the understandable shift in focus to Covid-19 in the NHS. In March, two-week wait referrals for suspected cancer cases dropped by 75% which equated to 30,000 fewer patients being referred each week. It is estimated this may have resulted in up to 2,300 cancer patients being missed each week, untreated. 

C the Signs is playing our part too. We have launched an update to support GP practices during the Covid-19 pandemic. All two-week wait referral forms, including the new Covid-19 forms, are embedded in the tool. The forms are pre-populated and presented to the GP when a referral is indicated. These are updated centrally and in real-time. We have also launched a deferral page on the patient safety-netting dashboard. Patients may require ‘deferral’ due to shielding, Covid-19 status or lack of access to services. Patients can now be tracked and tests and referral actioned at a later date from the deferral page. Practices can easily track the length of time a patient has been deferred and what tests or referrals need actioning later. 

This Cancer Survivors month is an opportunity for people to connect over a common issue and to bring attention to the ongoing challenges of cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship, but also to highlight the reasons to have hope and less fear. This year, we wanted to continue encouraging hope and further highlight the importance of early diagnosis, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The importance of early diagnosis is about to become even clearer. At C the Signs we are working to support healthcare professionals to diagnose cancer earlier whilst working alongside several fantastic charities who are supporting people to recognise the signs and symptoms earlier. In the face of Covid-19, we have broadened the use of our tool to ensure people with potential signs and symptoms of cancer do not experience any further delay to diagnosis than absolutely necessary and that testing is followed up rapidly and efficiently. 

And so, more cancers are being diagnosed earlier and as a result more people are surviving cancer for longer. 

Early diagnosis saves lives. Early diagnosis justifies hope in the face of a cancer diagnosis.