November’s focus is all about cancer. Mouth cancer specifically for most of the dental profession, who all year around, but especially in November spend time highlighting the disease as part of Oral Health Foundation’s annual awareness campaign.
Mouth Cancer Action Month is all about early intervention and spotting signs of the disease to save lives.
Lack of early intervention has been an increasing problem for most cancers since COVID-19, with the knock-on effect of the first lockdown becoming increasingly more prominent nearly two years on.
Diagnosis of early stage cancer fell by a third in the first lockdown, which saw a major disruption to NHS services and fewer people visiting GPs and hospitals for conditions unrelated to coronavirus.
Macmillan estimates that across the UK there are around 50,000 ‘missing diagnoses’ – meaning that compared to a similar timeframe last year, 50,000 fewer people have been diagnosed with cancer.
Claim figures from Dentists’ Provident mirror these trends, showing a 57 per cent drop in new cancer claims cases in 2020 versus 2019.
“The figure is potentially a result of routine screening being delayed or people being hesitant to enter medical practices and hospital settings to discuss symptoms, which could have led to decline in diagnosis,” says Paul Roberts, Head of Claims at Dentists’ Provident.
The impact on cancer care due to COVID-19 is widely reported.
In February this year Cancer Research UK stated that 40,000 fewer people have started their cancer treatment – a figure largely driven by a drop in the number of people diagnosed with cancer in 2020.
“The number of people diagnosed with cancer or starting treatment in the UK each year is usually relatively predictable. We don’t see large changes within a cancer site year on year unless a big change is introduced, like a new screening programme. So, a drop of 40,000 is big,” says Jon Shelton, a Senior Cancer Intelligence Manager at Cancer Research UK.
A recent article in the British Medical Journal states it will take the NHS more than a decade to clear the backlog of cancer cases missed during the pandemic without a recovery plan and an increase in the number of oncologists.
One study published by DATA-CAN and University College London estimated that the pandemic could result in an additional 6,270 deaths over the next 12 months in people newly diagnosed with cancer. This number rises to an estimated 17,915 further deaths considering all people currently living with cancer.
While charities agree the true impact of COVID-19 on cancer diagnosis and treatment is hard to measure, expectations are, as society has returned to some normality in 2021, cancer referrals will rise again and missed diagnoses to be picked up.
Dame Cally Palmer, National Cancer Director for NHS England reported on the BBC that referrals and treatments have been above normal levels since March 2021.
Despite this there is still a large backlog of around 16,000 people currently waiting more than 62 days for a diagnosis, of whom about 12% will have cancer.
There is expectation that cancer-related insurance claims will mirror the delayed diagnoses and rise in the coming years as a result.
Bryan Gross, Head of Underwriting at Dentists’ Provident said: “In 2020 we paid out almost £550,000 in cancer claims. While we can’t speculate what’s ahead, any backlog of a delayed cancer diagnosis in society would naturally filter into claims within our members’ profession too.”
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