Lockdown Delays Led to Surge in Oral Cancer Cases

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: Dentist Fiez Mughal (L) and Dental Nurse Johanna Bartha (R) carry out a procedure on a patient in one of the six surgery rooms at East Village dental practice on May 28, 2020 in London, England. With dental staff facing a greater chance of infection …
Leon Neal/Getty Images

There has been a wave of oral cancers being caught at later stages because dentists did not pick up early signs due to Chinese coronavirus lockdown closures.

The UK suspended dental services during the first shutdown in March 2020, with access to regular appointments not resumed until June 8th.

Matthew Garrett from the Royal College of Surgeons has said that because many patients were forced to use phone or video conference consultations in all but serious dental cases and emergencies, dental practitioners were not able to pick up on the subtle changes to soft tissue in the mouth, or other neck or head conditions which could have meant catching some cancers early.

“Anecdotally, patients are now presenting later with more advanced oral cancer, which means the tumours are larger and surgery is more complicated,” Mr Garrett said, according to a Times report on Monday.

The newspaper of record states that while dental practices have resumed services — albeit with restrictions as a result of government regulations to ensure hygiene and social distancing standards — patients remain reticent to go to the dentist or other medical settings.

A November report on the rise of stillbirths pointed to a similar reluctance from expectant mothers in the later stages of their pregnancies to seek help if they experienced problems, either through fear of going to hospital and catching coronavirus or thinking that they would present a burden to the NHS.

A report from Cardiff University and Cancer Research UK released last week revealed that during the first lockdown, almost half of those who had a suspected symptom of cancer did not go to the GP for help, again, because they did not want to overstretch the National Health Service, with researchers finding, according to The Guardian, that Britons were put off by the government’s “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” message.

People “put their health concerns on hold to protect the NHS”, one of the study’s researchers said, with the paper finding that 44.8 per cent of Britons who had at least one suspected cancer symptom between March and August did not seek medical help, including those who had ‘red flag’ symptoms such as coughing up blood (30.7 per cent), noticing a change in the appearance of a mole (58.6 per cent), or discovering a swelling or lump (41 per cent).

With some ten million backlogged dentist appointments, the British Dental Association believes that it could take months, or even years, to catch up.

Healthwatch England, a health and social care services watchdog, released a report revealing that “people have been asked to wait for up to two years to see an NHS dentist.”

The Times also reported on Monday that the chairman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr Agnes Ayton, warned that delays to accessing support to mental health services were putting eating disorder patients’ lives at risk.

Waiting times for a bed at a facility in Dr Ayton’s area had increased from three to four weeks to two months, while non-urgent patients have been told they may have to wait two years.

Last month, UK mental health professionals warned that lockdown was “damaging” children, with hospitals seeing an increase in children arriving at Accident and Emergency in mental health crises, with those self-harming getting younger.

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