Breast cancer awareness month: Patients not getting the treatment they need

A Kingston breast cancer charity has warned that cancer patients are still not receiving the treatment they need, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

October marks Breast Cancer Awareness month, which this year comes at a time of paused treatments, delayed scans, and a lack of access to trials. 

Lisa Curtis, charity representative of Kingston’s branch of Look Good Feel Better (LGFB), said treatments had been stopped or delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“They are already forecasting there will be an increased number of deaths due to cancer in this next year. 

“And that’s not without the people that are probably living with cancer already who are not yet diagnosed because they haven’t been able to see their doctors as they would normally,” she said. 

Statistics from Cancer Research show that 55,0000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. It is the UK’s most common cancer.

Paused treatment

In May, Charity Breast Cancer Now (BCN) surveyed over 580 people affected by breast cancer in 2020.

Many respondents reported that they or their loved ones were experiencing impacts to their treatment, including cancelled surgeries, reduced or delayed therapy or difficulties in accessing drugs including hormone therapy.

BCN said: “This leads to periods of weeks or potentially even months without treatments that had been helping to stabilise the disease.”

Joanne Addis, 54, was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 2017 and in April 2020, Addis’ Palbociclib treatment was paused, for three months.

Palbociclib treatment is used in hormonal therapy to treat advanced-stage negative breast cancer patients who have not been treated with hormonal therapy before.

Addis said: “There are a lot of people like me who’ve had to pause their cancer treatment and not all of us will have good results at the end of this.

“I’m just hoping that the risk of coronavirus drops low enough soon so that I can restart my treatment.”

Emotional impact

Such uncertain times are distressing for breast cancer patients, leading to increased levels of anxiety.

BNC Chief Executive Baroness Delyth Morgan said: “It’s extremely concerning to hear of the huge emotional impact the outbreak is having on so many people living with secondary breast cancer.

“Many women are experiencing or fearing considerable changes to their care, and the level of anxiety, distress and fear that we’ve been hearing on our Helpline is unparalleled in recent years.”

Breast cancer charities have seen a surge in enquires and patients reaching out with questions and concerns about coronavirus.

BCN saw a 60 per cent increase in its “Ask Our Nurses” service with half of the enquiries about the impacts of Covid-19.

Charities have had to adapt

LGFB runs confidence-boosting sessions helping patients deal with the visible and emotional side effects of cancer through skincare and makeup workshops.

Normally, LGFB would operate over a network of 140 hospitals with 3,000 volunteers across the country delivering group sessions.

Yet due to Covid-19, the sessions are now online.

Curtis said: “We’re still bringing people with cancer together so that they can connect and chat.

“They quite often share phone numbers via the private chat online, so they can connect with each other after the workshop.

“While it isn’t anything like the same as being together face to face, it’s the next best thing at a time when people are feeling more isolated than ever.”

Charities say it is important to raise awareness of other forms of cancer during this month, as it is not just breast cancer patients who are affected by the pandemic.

 “I think this breast cancer awareness month is probably more important than any previous in raising awareness for what people are going through,” Curtis said. 

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