SUN columnist Deborah James has warned more people will die if cancer care is delayed during the third lockdown.
The 39-year-old, who has stage 4 bowel cancer, said that shutting down services during the first wave lead to a backlog in cancer cases.
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Appearing on ITV's Lorraine today, she urged people not to ignore signs of the disease and reminded viewers "the NHS is open to all".
The mum-of-two, from London, referred to the first lockdown in March last year, when many people avoided seeing their GP over fears the NHS was overwhelmed.
She told Lorraine: "As a result, cancer referral rates dropped by 75 per cent in the first lockdown.
"People were just left with undiagnosed cancers, sitting at home worrying about a lump or bump, a change in bowel habits, and didn't go to their GP.
Cancer hasn't gone anywhere because Covid is around – the NHS is open for all business, so please, please go
"As a result we then had a backlog of thousands of people and, very sadly, had lives lost.
"On average each year in UK, 165,000 people will die from cancer.
"Cancer hasn't gone anywhere because Covid is around – my message is clear, and it should have been said last night, but the NHS is open for all business, so please, please go."
When the pandemic struck almost a year ago, cancer treatments were halted and millions of tests for breast, bowel and cervical cancer missed.
As a result, Deborah lost friends to cancer, including her close friend Kelly Smith, 31, from Macclesfield, Cheshire, who died on June 13 after her chemo was stopped.
Deborah, who shares her journey with Sun readers in her weekly column Things Cancer Made Me Say, was lucky enough to continue her treatment through lockdown, after blood tests showed her tumour markers were raised.
But in November, scans showed signs that her cancer had "reawakened" – and she needed surgery to have a growth removed.
She went on to investigate the pandemic’s toll on millions of cancer patients for the BBC’s Panorama programme.
Back then, in July last year, she was told by experts that coronavirus could lead to 35,000 extra cancer deaths in a year.
With the country plunged back into another national lockdown, medics fear that even more people could be left without treatment.
Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, today said there won't be capacity in hospitals to treat other illnesses if Covid is able to continue spreading.
He told Times Radio: "There needs to be space in our hospitals for us to deal with all the other things – the heart attacks or strokes, the cancer surgeries and emergency surgery.
"We have to be able to keep capacity to do those. And if we don't reduce the transmission of the virus, there won't be that capacity."
When asked whether the NHS will be able to return to normal business by late spring, he added: "I'm afraid I'm one of the pessimists I think this is going to drag on a bit.
"I think that we're really not going to be any bit in any better shape (until) summer I'm afraid.
"I think it's going to take a long time. This is a very, very, very serious situation.
"There'll be an enormous backlog of elective surgeries, and we may have backlogs of some more urgent surgeries to get through as well so it's going to be a long tough, hard winter and spring."
URGENT OPS CANCELLED
It comes as one of the NHS’s biggest hospitals has been forced to cancel urgent cancer surgery this week after a surge in Covid patients needing intensive care beds.
King’s College hospital in south London postponed all“priority two” cancer operations – procedures that need to be done within 28 days of the decision to undertake them – on Monday and Tuesday.
Staff at the hospital now fear patients could see their cancer spread or become inoperable as a result, the Guardian reports.
But some experts fear the third national lockdown isn't enough to stop the spread of the new coronavirus variant.
Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think the lockdown announced yesterday will clearly save tens of thousands of lives.
"The threat we're facing is at least as bad as we were back in March.
"I think the virus is different and it may be that the lockdown measures we had are not enough so we need to learn from the new insights and new technologies, we need to learn from the last lockdown and particularly some of the things we saw.
"I think this time round we really need to use this lockdown to bear down on the virus in a way that can protect key workers – for example, we could be using the lateral flow (tests) and working with employers to offer regular testing to key workers.
"We have millions of these and key workers will still be out there and we can protect them and reduce rates in key workers through that method, especially if we also make sure we pay for their isolation when they're infected."
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