Death rates among men with prostate cancer tripled in the first year of the pandemic, according to “extremely worrying” new data.
Figures show almost 5,000 more deaths of men with prostate cancer during the pandemic – at a time when the number of diagnoses has plummeted. Only about 1,000 were caused by Covid, researchers said.
The major study of NHS hospital data by the charity Prostate Cancer UK shows alarming changes in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease, with cases spotted much later when the disease is less treatable.
Experts have warned the lapses could shorten thousands more lives, with around 14,000 men with the disease missing a diagnosis during the pandemic.
When prostate cancer is detected in the first two stages, survival rates approach 100%.
But they drop to around 50% for people treated at stage four.
Less likely to receive treatment
The new research shows that even when men were diagnosed, they were less likely to receive life-extending treatment as hospitals came under pressure from Covid, the research found.
Overall, deaths among men with prostate cancer rose from 7% before the pandemic to 26% in the first nine months of the pandemic, according to the analysis.
Even in the following nine months, covering the period up to September 2021, deaths remained high, with an 18% fatality rate.
The vast majority of the increase was not caused by Covid deaths, researchers said.
More than 47,500 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK in a typical year, and around 11,500 die from the disease.
Research shows that despite the decline in diagnoses during the pandemic, there have been more than 4,700 additional deaths among men diagnosed with prostate cancer, of which only 1,000 were caused by Covid.
The analysis suggests around 1,000 fewer diagnoses in men under the age of 75 since the start of the pandemic, with hundreds of cases only spotted when patients went to the emergency room.
“Covid has changed diagnosis and treatment”
It comes amid concerns about difficulties in accessing GPs during the pandemic, with a sharp drop in face-to-face appointments.
“Our overall conclusion from this study is that Covid-19 has altered diagnosis and treatment in ways that may increase late diagnoses, increase prostate cancer deaths, and reduce the life expectancy of men with prostate cancer for many years,” the scientists warned.
The study compared 82,897 men diagnosed between October 2018 and March 2020 with 40,556 men diagnosed between April 2020 and March 2021.
The research, presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology congress in Paris on Sunday, shows a growing proportion of cases that were only detected when men went to emergency departments. They also show that cases were more likely to be found at older ages, which increases the risk of advanced disease.
Rise in late-stage prostate cancer diagnoses
Overall, the proportion of late-stage prostate cancer diagnoses increased from 12.7% to 15.5% during the pandemic, with a 4% increase in A&E diagnoses and a 5% drop in referrals from outpatients.
The proportion of men diagnosed before the age of 75 has dropped significantly, with the biggest decline seen among men in their 60s and early 70s.
Figures that compare diagnoses between October 2018 and March 2020 with the year beginning April 2020, show a drop of around four percentage points in the proportion of men diagnosed before the age of 75.
Meanwhile, the proportion of men with advanced disease who received NHS-recommended combination therapy fell sharply – from 47% before the pandemic to 38% between January and September 2021.
The study comes six months after Prostate Cancer UK and the NHS launched a public campaign to find the estimated 14,000 men who went undiagnosed in the early years of the pandemic. The charity said the efforts led to a 28% increase in suspected urological cancer cases in March.
Years for the NHS to catch up with its backlog
However, the charity said the scale of the problems uncovered suggests it could take years for the NHS to catch up with the backlog, which could cost thousands of lives.
Chiara De Biase, Director of Support and Influencing at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “These data are extremely worrying and show how vital more is done to raise awareness of prostate cancer, particularly among young people. men.
“At least 14,000 fewer men have been diagnosed during the pandemic, and we now know that unless things change, we face the dire prospect of men’s health conditions worsening.
“Following the sad passing of our Ambassador Bill Turnbull, we are all reminded of the importance of public awareness in supporting timely diagnoses – Bill’s determination to raise awareness saw a record number of men diagnosed in 2018.
“To recover from the impact of the pandemic, we will need to see a similar sustained increase in the number of men talking to their GP about prostate cancer.”
“Catching cancer early saves lives”
The charity has urged men aged 50 and over to speak to their doctor about their risk, while black men and men whose fathers or brothers have been diagnosed with the disease should be told a increased risk from the age of 45.
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘Catching cancer early saves lives, which is why earlier this year we partnered with Prostate Cancer UK in a major public campaign which has seen more than half a million people use the online risk checker, increasing the number of men who have come forward. for NHS checks.
“NHS cancer teams are working hard to see and treat a record number of patients, and we continue to encourage men most at risk of prostate cancer, including black men, those over 50 years old or those with a family history, to speak to their GP about having a PSA test if they are concerned.