However, new analysis published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that increasing the wait to surgery from six to 12 weeks would increase the risk of death by around nine per cent.
The scientists at Queen’s University in Ontario and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that even a delay of less than four weeks could not be justified.
The calculated a four per cent increased risk of death for a two-week delay for breast cancer surgery.
Across a wider range of cancers, a month’s delay to the start of treatment more broadly, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, was associated with an increased risk of death of up to 13 per cent.
For surgery, this was a six to eight per cent increase in the risk of death for every four-week treatment delay, whereas the impact was even more marked for some radiotherapy and systemic indications, with a nine and 13 per cent increased risk of death for definitive head and neck radiotherapy and follow-up systemic treatment for colorectal cancer, respectively.
Although NHS leaders have insisted that the health service was there for all patients who needed it during the pandemic, many cancer consultations and procedures were postponed during the first wave.
A spokesperson for the NHS said: “Over 125,000 people started treatment for cancer during the peak of the pandemic and 95 per cent of those did so within one month of a decision to treat, with the numbers of people currently being treated back up to pre-pandemic levels.
“Guidance on cancer surgery was carefully drafted and agreed with a range of royal colleges and surgical experts based on the safest options for patients and actually a separate study found that any brief pause in treatment would have a very modest impact on health outcomes.”