DELIVERY of radiotherapy treatment was significantly impacted during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the number of new treatment courses down 19.9 per cent in April 2020 compared to the same month in 2019, according to data published in The Lancet Oncology.
New radiotherapy treatment courses were also found to be down 6.2 per cent in May and 11.6 per cent in June 2020, compared to 2019.
In the study, researchers led by the University of Leeds, with the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) and Public Health England, collated national radiotherapy treatment data from the first wave of the pandemic and modelled how many extra patients could have been treated if Covid-19 had not hit the NHS.
The study found that more than 3,000 fewer courses of radiotherapy were delivered between February and June 2020 than would have been anticipated pre-Covid.
But the researchers also observed how cancer teams were able to quickly implement new treatments – such as a 60 per cent boom in the use of shorter radiotherapy treatments for breast cancer. Treatments for bladder, oesophageal and bowel cancers increased markedly, says the RCR, "probably because radiotherapy was used to help compensate for a lack of surgical capacity due to the pandemic".
Dr Katie Spencer, lead author of the study, University Academic Clinical Fellow at the University of Leeds and consultant clinical oncologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "It is impressive to see that the data closely follows the guidelines published at the start of the pandemic. For cancers such as breast and bowel, shorter, more intensive treatments were delivered to provide similar outcomes for patients.
"Where treatment delay is safe, like in prostate cancer, delays were used to reduce the risk of coronavirus exposure. This was particularly important for older patients, who are more vulnerable to the virus.
"In other cases, such as head and neck, and anal cancers, we saw that the number of radiotherapy treatments hardly changed during the first wave. This was really reassuring, as we know that it is vital that these treatments are not delayed."