CANCER checks and treatments in the East of England have now returned to levels similar to those seen before the pandemic and in some cases are even higher than before, latest figures reveal.

But people do still need to come forward if they have worrying symptoms that could be cancer.

Between March and May 2021, the East of England region restored cancer treatments to pre-Covid levels by delivering more than 8,700 first cancer treatments across all Trusts in the region over this time.

During May, more than 24,200 people across the region received urgent cancer checks on a two-week wait cancer pathway – that’s 7% per cent higher than usual – having been referred to a hospital specialist by their GP.

Meanwhile, the number of people getting checked for cancer across England continues to be high with more than 207,000 people getting checked in May – over 100,000 more than in the same month last year.

GPs across the region are continuing to work hard to meet growing patient demand, with some people now coming forward for a check that they may have put off during the pandemic.

Dr Peter Holloway, from Mendlesham practice in Stowmarket, chairs the East of England Cancer Alliances Primary Care Group. He said: “GP practices are working in new ways to see as many patients as possible, while still providing face to face appointments when needed.

“It is crucial that anyone with worrying symptoms that they believe could be cancer, gets in touch with their GP practice. Despite the increase in demand, doctors are working hard to ensure that patients are seen as soon as possible.”

During the pandemic, NHS teams put a range of measures in place so that people could be treated safely, with almost 25,000 people starting their first NHS treatment for cancer during May this year with the majority starting within a month – including more than 2,790 people starting their first NHS treatment for cancer in the East of England.

Consultant Oncologist Professor Peter Hoskin, East of England Cancer Alliance (South) Clinical Director, said: “It is a real credit to hardworking NHS teams across the East of England that our systems are recovering from the extreme demands of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“These latest figures show that GP referrals and treatments are now around their usual levels or higher.

“It is important to note that cancer treatments continued locally even at the height of the Covid-19 surges, thanks to the dedication and flexibility of teams across the East of England.

“Now the Cancer Alliances are working with local health systems to not only get cancer services back to normal but to move towards our Long-Term Plan ambitions to diagnose more cancers earlier and improve cancer survival.

“Many people came forward for potentially life-saving checks in May, with the vast majority being seen very quickly. But our message remains the same – please do not hesitate to come forward if you have a worrying sign or symptom.”

Speak to your GP practice if you are concerned about any of the following:

  • A lump or bump
  • Skin or mole changes
  • Bleeding or unexplained swelling or persistent bloating
  • Changes to bowel or bladder habits
  • A cough that won’t go and is not related to Covid-19

NHS teams in the East of England are also accelerating the introduction of innovations and new ways of working in cancer services including:

  • Colon capsule endoscopy - a camera in a capsule swallowed by the patient instead of having to undergo an endoscopy. Working with the East of England Cancer Alliances, East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust was the first in the country to trial the project which launched in February this year.
  • Cytosponge – a capsule-sized sponge on a string developed in the East of England that can be swallowed in order to detect pre-cancerous cells in the oesophagus. This is a Covid-safe alternative to endoscopy for many patients, providing a quick, cost-saving and effective test to identify the highest risk patients.
  • Rapid Diagnostic Pathways to make sure all patients get the right tests at the right time in as few visits as possible. These will be the default model for both site-specific and non-specific symptom pathways across England by 2024.
  • Targeted Lung Health Checks, already diagnose lung cancer in higher-risk communities like Luton and Thurrock . Mobile trucks for example in places like supermarket car parks provide free scans to current or ex-smokers aged 55 to 74.

Notes to Editors:  

For more information or interview requests, contact

Kate Swan, Communications Lead, East of England Cancer Alliances,

East of England has two Cancer Alliances, North and South, working together with NHS organisations, local authorities, voluntary and community sector partners, to transform cancer services across the region. 

The Cancer Alliances bring together clinicians, commissioners, patients and members of the local community, to deliver better outcomes for patients through early diagnosis and more integrated and personalised care for all those affected by cancer.

They also have a key role in supporting pioneering work on latest treatments and prevention of the disease through healthy lives.  

The East of England Cancer Alliances have an active Patient Partnership Group which ensures that the views and experiences of local people affected by cancer are at the heart of their work. 

There are 21 Cancer Alliances in England, working to deliver the NHS Long Term Plan commitments for people affected by cancer.  

The ambitions will be delivered in a way that:  

  • improves quality of life outcomes;  
  • improves patient experience outcomes;  
  • reduces variation; and  
  • reduces inequalities

For more information about Cancer Alliances, see NHS England » Cancer Alliances – improving care locally

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