The cancer backlog has been closely monitored over the course of the pandemic, but a new study has shown the numbers are still on the rise.

Figures from Cancer Research UK show that more than 226,000 people in England are waiting more than six weeks for key cancer tests. Pre-pandemic, only 28,794 people waited this long.

Currently, the NHS target stipulates any referral for key cancer tests should be completed within six weeks. If GP’s notice any ‘red flag’ cancer symptoms then referrals are meant to be fast-tracked and prioritized.

However, an analysis by Cancer Research UK found that over the course of 2020 and 2021 urgent referrals have fallen by 13% compared to pre-pandemic data.

These figures are worrying to anyone who is suspicious of a cancer diagnosis, or has a loved one recently diagnosed.

Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK, put herself in the shoes of a possible cancer patient:

“Having to wait weeks and weeks to find out the results of a test can be a really stressful time – whether or not someone is diagnosed with cancer or another serious condition. And while the clock is ticking, if someone does have cancer their disease could be progressing to a point where it becomes harder to treat and survival chances are lower.”

And she is calling for urgent action to tackle the backlog:

“Despite the Government’s commitments to tackling the NHS backlog, the number of people waiting for diagnostic tests continues to grow. In the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, the Government must provide the NHS with investment for more staff and equipment to tackle the unacceptable backlog of people waiting for tests, bring down waiting times and get people diagnosed more quickly.”

Why are referrals being delayed?

A new study has also revealed that doctors may be put under pressure not to refer too many patients, to avoid strain on resources.

The BMJ Quality and Safety Journal has just released the findings showing a lack of urgent referrals. The study (pre-pandemic)  found that out of almost 50,000 patients who notified their doctor of a ‘red flag’ symptom, six in ten were not given an urgent referral.

Nearly 4% of those patients developed cancer within the next 12 months.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs find themselves in a position where they are criticised for referring both too much and too little: what would help is better access to diagnostic tools in the community and additional training to use them and interpret the results, so that better-informed referrals can be made.”

The authors of the study concluded that the GP’s referral methods may have been “a missed opportunity to diagnose early”.

How can the PanTum Detect Blood Test help?

Early diagnosis, as we know, is the best practice to save lives.

“Diagnostic tools in the community” like Professor Marshall said, can have a huge influence on determining which patients need to be referred for further testing and/or urgent treatment.

Our early detection cancer test, PanTum Detect, is one solution that could help tackle the backlog and inform GP’s decision-making. PanTum Detect can detect all cancers via a simple blood test, which makes it affordable and accessible to have in a primary care setting.

If you would like to partner with RMDM or find out more about PanTum Detect, please get in touch via our contact form.