One month delay raises cancer death risk by 10 per cent


Every month that cancer treatment is delayed raises the risk of death by 10 per cent, shock new research has discovered.

And as tens of thousands of Queensland women have missed out on lifesaving breast and cervical cancer screenings in the early half of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the study published in the British Medical Journal has sparked an urgent warning from the Cancer Council Queensland.

People whose treatment for cancer is delayed by even one month have in different cases a six to 13 per cent higher risk of dying - a risk that keeps rising the longer treatment is paused, Canadian and UK researchers have found.

The mortality rate is significantly impacted whether treatment is surgical, systemic therapy such as chemotherapy, or radiotherapy for seven types of cancer.

The study looked at bladder, breast, colon, rectum, lung, cervix and head and neck - which together, represents 44 per cent of all incident cancers globally.


Cancer Council Queensland CEO Chris McMillan. Picture: Brendan Radke
Cancer Council Queensland CEO Chris McMillan. Picture: Brendan Radke

Globally, health systems have problems with cancer treatment delays and it is already widely accepted that such delays can have adverse consequences on a patient's outcome.

But to date the precise impact of delays from diagnosis to receipt of treatment on mortality has not been thoroughly analysed.

The deferral of cancer surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy during the pandemic sparked the study.

A team of researchers led by Timothy Hanna from Queen's University in Kingston, Canada, carried out a review and analysis of relevant studies published between January 2000 and April 2020.

Cancer Council Queensland chief executive Chris McMillan has appealed to Queenslanders to understand the importance of early detection and treatment.

"We urge all Queenslanders to make every effort to get screened, diagnosed and treated for cancer as early as possible. This is crucial for better management and outcomes of cancer," she said.


The journal study found that a surgical delay of 12 weeks for all patients who had breast cancer for a year - for example during COVID-19 lockdown and recovery - would lead to 1400 excess deaths in the UK, 6100 in the United States, 700 in Canada and 500 in Australia.



Originally published as One month delay raises cancer death risk by 10 per cent