Our research into the impact of COVID-19 on cancer
We have created a central resources hub for Health Professionals which hosts all of our CRUK resources and further materials to help with managing the pandemic. We are updating the information as guidance changes. There is also a page specifically for patients on our about cancer hub.
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When the UK entered “lockdown”, it became clear that cancer pathways would be impacted and therefore crucial to gather and monitor the evidence both in real time and the future. Cancer Research UK initiated a COVID-19 ‘Research & Analysis’ workstream to:
- Understand research priorities
- Co-ordinate and communicate COVID-19 research and analysis
- Gather external intelligence
- Identify any synergies and opportunities to collaborate
- Monitor and review published evidence
Together with the other COVID-19 workstreams happening across CRUK and our grant funded research, this work will inform how we support cancer patients, services and pathways through the pandemic and recovery and improving outcomes for the future.
Here’s a selection of the research we’ve been conducting and funding to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on the cancer pathway.
COVID and cancer key stats - Updated August 2021
COVID-19’s effect on cancer patients is a key concern to the cancer community with delayed or decreased diagnosis, tests and treatment. To understand this variable and rapidly changing landscape the Cancer Intelligence team are regularly monitoring published data around the impact of the pandemic across the cancer pathway. We have prepared some key insights which reports latest data across the UK (and where possible for the devolved nations) on screening, urgent suspected referrals, diagnostic tests and treatment.
Cancer Intelligence Team, Cancer Research UK.
Updated August 2021.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the detection and management of colorectal cancer in England: a population-based study
This research, led by Professor Eva Morris at the Big Data Institute in Oxford with input from the Cancer Intelligence team at CRUK, investigates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the detection and management of colorectal cancer in England. It is the first study to provide operational detail, rather than modelled estimates, in near real time, using data from January 2019 to October 2020. The results show impact across the cancer pathway, with a sustained reduction in the number of people referred, diagnosed, and treated for colorectal cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic, which are likely to have a significant impact on disease prognosis.
This work uses data provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support.
Morris E, Goldacre R, Spata E, et al. Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the detection and management of colorectal cancer in England: a population-based study. Lancet 2021. Doi: 10.1016/S2468-1253(21)00005-4.
Cancer & COVID-19 Research Summit
Cancer Research UK (CRUK), The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) and Public Health England’s National Disease Registration Service (PHE NCRAS) hosted a Cancer/COVID-19 Research Summit with researchers from different disciplines to identify key research themes or questions around COVID-19’s impact on cancer prevention, early diagnosis and screening. Also, to discuss how the impact of COVID-19 on cancer patients can be mitigated through effective research.
Several areas in which further research is needed were identified, as well as lessons from the pandemic to improve research, cancer care, and help prepare for future crises. These include understanding the biological and psychological effects of COVID-19 on cancer patients, risk factors associated with COVID-19 and cancer, the influence of COVID-19 on health-related behaviours and the impact of COVID-19 on cancer care pathways. The full meeting report can be found here.
Insights into Primary Care during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for healthcare professionals working in Primary care. We are carrying out surveys to help us better understand the impact of the pandemic on how GPs deliver cancer prevention and manage the care of patients who they suspect might have cancer. We are running our Cancer Research UK Health Professional Tracker survey in August with UK GPs and Practice Nurses. This will explore their knowledge, attitudes and behaviour around cancer prevention, screening and early diagnosis and we will be able to compare the results with those from the 2018 survey to see if there have been any changes. This year we are also collecting data on the impact of COVID-19, specifically we have included question on;
- The impact of COVID-19 on delivery of smoking cessation and weight management advice
- How GPs follow up or ‘safety net’ patients who have symptoms.
- GPs access to and use of Faecal Immunochemical Testing (FIT) for patients with lower GI symptoms.
- Challenges to managing and referring patients with respiratory symptoms
We are also tracking how GPs feel about some of these key issues on a monthly basis over the summer with some ‘snapshot’ surveys. We will be using the results of these surveys to inform our work with Health Services and with Health Professionals.
For more information please contact email@example.com
COVID Cancer Awareness Measure (COVID-CAM)
Since the onset of COVID-19, people may not be aware of the importance of seeking medical help for early signs of cancer and attending screening to diagnose cancer sooner. COVID-19 may also affect whether people take part in healthy behaviours that can reduce the chances of getting cancer. To better understand this we’ve developed a COVID-Cancer Awareness Measure (COVID-CAM) survey which will collect data from a UK-representative sample of adults twice – once in August/September 2020, and again in February/March 2021. We will be able to see how the public’s attitudes and behaviours change over the course of the pandemic.
Specifically, we aim to understand the following:
- How much are people smoking, drinking (alcohol), and exercising?
- Do people know what potential symptoms of cancer are?
- To what extent are people delaying going to see their GP for potential symptoms of cancer?
- What is putting people off going to their GP and hospitals right now?
- How do people feel about cancer screening programmes?
The survey has been developed in collaboration with a research team led by Prof Kate Brain (Cardiff University) with funding from UK Research and Innovation: See more on the wider study
Three reports have been published so far:
Cancer Patient Experience Survey
Soon after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of ‘lockdown’ we learnt that the outbreak of COVID-19 was negatively affecting the testing, treatment and care of cancer patients. We needed to learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on people affected by cancer, and to quantify this by engaging with a large sample of cancer patients. In response we launched the CRUK Cancer Patient Experience Survey.
We developed this survey in collaboration with academics and cancer patients and collected data during May 2020 on a range of topics, including:
- Impact of COVID-19 on cancer services (testing, treatment & care)
- Emotional impact of the pandemic on cancer patients
- What do people with cancer think CRUK should be doing now and after COVID-19?
- What do people with cancer think the government should be doing now and after COVID-19?
Where possible, existing survey measures were adopted from surveys such as NHS England’s ‘Cancer Patient Experience Survey’ and the Wellcome Trust’s ‘UK COVID-19 Questionnaire’. The survey also collected qualitative data from open questions and these results were complemented by case studies from 6 cancer patients who provided an in-depth, first-hand account of their experiences.
Cancer Research UK. Cancer Research UK Cancer Experience Survey 2020: The impact of COVID-19 on Cancer patients in the UK. July 2020.
Remote Consultations – Evidence and Insight
Primary Care has worked incredibly hard to rapidly adapt to how they offer care to keep patients and staff safe while maintaining services during the Covid-19 pandemic which has resulted in a shift to remote consultation modalities. CRUK are keen to build understanding of any potential impact of remote consultations on the diagnosis of cancer. This slide set summarises our top line evidence review and key findings from our in-house research.
If you have any questions about this slide set, please contact The Strategic Evidence Team, Cancer Research UK.