An innovative type of cancer treatment is being rationed by health officials – even though it could help with a predicted surge in cases due to coronavirus, campaigners say.
There are now calls for the government to roll out stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) across the country to deal with an expected backlog of cancer cases that have built up as hospitals have cancelled or delayed treatment to free up capacity for COVID-19 patients.
Campaigners say the new therapy is an effective alternative to surgery in some cancers – and could even reduce the risk of COVID-19 as it requires fewer hospital visits.
Action Radiotherapy has sent an open letter to NHS England and Health Secretary Matt Hancock warning that failure to act would be a “tragic lost opportunity”.
The letter said: “Cancer is generally a disease of older age and associated with risk factors such as smoking, alcohol and obesity, which result in additional co-morbidities.
“This is clearly a higher risk demographic who are being advised to self-isolate, causing anxiety about seeking help for cancer-related symptoms. Hence, there is a ‘perfect storm’ for delayed diagnosis and reduced access to services.”
Action Radiotherapy’s letter comes after experts said that delays to cancer operations due to the COVID-19 crisis could trigger as many as 5,000 deaths.
Dr Clive Peedell, a consultant clinical oncologist who wrote the letter along with Action Radiotherapy, told Sky News: “The patient will be told ‘you can wait for surgery, but there’s a risk your cancer would progress, and that can increase your mortality rate, or you can go for this stereotactic radiotherapy treatment’.
“It gives people an option, rather than just being stuck at home frightened that their cancer might progress.”
Dr Peedell said that almost all cancer centres have the capability to deliver the treatment.