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Study highlights concern that cancer deaths could rise by at least 20%

Posted: 29th April 2020

Yorkshire and Humber region’s data research hub supports leading work into effect of Covid-19 

 DATA-CAN, the health and data research hub for cancer in the UK, a key part of which is based in the Yorkshire and Humber Region, has supported work led by University College London to highlight concerns that the Covid-19 emergency in England could result in at least 20% more deaths over the next 12 months in people who have been newly diagnosed with cancer. 

The analysis, published todayis the first to focus on the impact of the emergency on mortality rates in people with cancer and uses data from the health records of over 3.5 million patients in England. 

DATACAN is a multi-million-pound national drive to collect significant data in which this region has played a leading part with the founding partners, representing Yorkshire and the Humber, including the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.  

The study estimates that pre-Covid-19, about 31,354 newly diagnosed cancer patients would die within a year in England. As a result of the emergency, there could be at least 6,270 additional deaths in newly diagnosed cancer patients alone. This number could rise to an estimated 17,915 additional deaths if all people currently living with cancer are considered. 

The researchers analysed recent weekly data from major cancer centres in the UK and found a 76% decrease in urgent referrals from GPs for people with suspected cancers and a 60% decrease in chemotherapy appointments for cancer patients compared to pre-Covid-19 levels.  

Professor Geoff Hall, Leeds-based co-author of the report and clinical lead of DATA-CAN, said: “We are concerned about the dramatic drop in referrals from GPs to cancer services which the data only too clearly demonstrates. This is the similar to the drop we see at Christmas, but the effect has been sustained since early February.” 

Monica Jones, Chief Data Officer of DATA-CAN and Exec Lead for Population Health Management for the digitised Yorkshire and Humber Care Record, which is supported by the Yorkshire and Humber AHSN, added: “It’s crucial that we can now use the anonymised data from the Integrated Care Record to serve the entire region of Yorkshire and Humber with real-time information. We have used information from the Leeds area, now we can work region-wide with a population of over 5million. 

“This will inform us how health services should be prioritised, both now and in the near future, in order to give patients the best possible life chances.” 

Collaborators from Yorkshire and Humber also include the University of Leeds, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, University of Sheffield, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, Sheffield Children’s Hospital, the Yorkshire and Humber Care Record, and Yorkshire & Humber AHSN. 

Dr Neville Young, Yorkshire & Humber AHSN’s Director of Enterprise and Innovation, said: “This is an important piece of research that will affect how the healthcare systems thinks about cancer patients during Covid-19 pandemic. It was only possible because of both the data within and the collaborative approach of the DATA-CAN partners. This is another great digital health asset for the Yorkshire and Humber region that sits alongside the Yorkshire and Humber Care Record and the Northern Pathology Imaging Cooperative that is starting to prove its worth.” 

Senior author Professor Harry Hemingway, (Director, UCL Institute of Health Informatics), added: “The overall impact of the Covid-19 emergency on deaths in cancer patients could be substantial. There are many factors operating here including rapid changes to diagnosis and treatment protocols, social distancing measures, changes in people’s behaviour in seeking medical attention and the economic impact of Covid-19, as well as deaths due to Covid-19 infection.” 

The DATA-CAN paper also models publicly available US data and shows an additional 33,890 deaths in the US in newly diagnosed cancer patients over the next year. The study estimates that pre-Covid-19, about 169,433 newly diagnosed cancer patients would die within a year in the US. 

Professor Mark Lawler (Queen’s University Belfast and Scientific Lead DATA-CAN) said: “We applied our model to new cancers in the UK and the US, using publicly available data. The results are concerning. We believe countries need to rapidly understand how the emergency is affecting cancer outcomes, otherwise we risk adding cancer and other underlying health conditions to the escalating death toll of the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

This research provides a comprehensive picture of how people living with a range of different cancers are affected by other often treatable long-term conditions including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity and diabetes. Nearly eight out of ten of the additional deaths in people with cancer are estimated to occur in people with one or more of these long-term conditions. 

Lead author, Dr Alvina Lai (UCL Institute of Health Informatics) said: “Our findings demonstrate the serious potential for unintended consequences of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which may negatively impact on patients with cancer and other underlying health conditions. It is vital that these patients are recognised as being vulnerable and that their care is managed appropriately”. 

Dr Charlie Davie (DATA-CAN Hub Director), said: “Our study highlights the value of bringing together data from multiple sources to enable researchers, health systems and policy makers to improve cancer management for our patients, both during and after this pandemic.” 

Pete Wheatstone, a patient and a member of the Public and Patient Involvement and Engagement group of DATA-CAN added: “This research demonstrates the value to cancer patients, the wider public and decision-makers when trusted professionals use our patient data to help decide the best course of action. It also highlights the urgent need to be able to analyse these data quickly and accurately to inform and influence current events.” 

Funding for the study was provided from Health Data Research UK, and the National Institute of Health Research University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre. 

Notes to editors 

For more information or to speak to the researchers involved, please contact: Rowan Walker, UCL Media Relations. +44 (0)7769 141 006 E: 

Frances Sanderson, Communications Manager, DATA-CAN, +44 (0)7534970073 or email  

Authors: A G Lai, L Pasea, A Banerjee, S Denaxas, M Katsoulis, W H Chang, B Williams, D Pillay, M Noursadeghi, C Swanton, D Linch, D Hughes, M D. Forster, C Turnbull,  N K. Fitzpatrick, K Boyd, G R. Foster, M Cooper, M Jones, K Pritchard-Jones, R Sullivan, G Hall, C Davie, M Lawler, H Hemingway 

  • About DATA-CAN: The Health Data Research Hub for Cancer 

 DATA-CAN  is one of seven Hubs funded through the UK Research and Innovation Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and delivered through Health Data Research UK– the national institute for health data science. It is a unique partnership of NHS organisations, patients, charities, academia and industry working across all four nations of the United Kingdom. DATA-CAN works in partnership with patients and the public to make high-quality health data more accessible for cancer researchers, clinicians and other health professionals, so it is easier to conduct research into new treatments, identify opportunities for earlier diagnosis and make improvements in care for people affected by cancer.