Fungal infections kill more people than breast cancer, say scientists – the threat posed

Julia Bradbury reflects on her breast cancer diagnosis

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Despite the large numbers, the threat posed to civilians and patients was only recognised in 2021, when a consortium of 29 countries was set up to combat the various types of microbial resistance.

Co-director of the Medical Research Council Centre for Medical Mycology at Exeter University Professor Adilia Warris told “Fungal infections are very serious, but I think one of the reasons they are not at the forefront of people’s minds is that they often come as a complication on top of another disease.

“Everyone knows how horrible cancer is, but what people often don’t realise is that cancer patients are also at very high risk of developing fungal infections and they are a significant factor in many cancer deaths.”

As well as cancer, fungal infections also affect those suffering from other conditions such as COVID-19.

A recent study found around one in six people who are admitted to intensive care with COVID-19 also have invasive fungal infections such as Staphylococcus, or Staph for short.

However, there are a variety of fungal infections other than Staph that can find ways around even the strongest immune systems.

These fungi can cause conditions such as thrush and other more serious conditions affecting the heart, brain, blood, and other internal organs.

One example of this type of fungi is Candida.

Professor Warris describes how Candida affects the immunocompromised body: “It releases tiny spores into the air, which we breathe in.

“If the lung is already damaged, someone is already ill, or the immune system is too weak, these spores can grow out in a kind of filament.”

As a result of this filament, it is possible for patients to go on to develop inflammation and pneumonia.

Fungal infections then pose a threat to the thousands of cancer patients in the UK, the growing awareness of this comes at a time when the NHS is faced with more cancer patients than ever before.

Recent data has revealed a record number of patients have been referred for cancer treatment.

In England alone 2.7 million people were referred for cancer checks in the past year.

Although this sounds unnerving, the rise has not been unexpected after a dip during the national lockdowns.

However, doctors have been surprised by just how many new patients are being referred.

Furthermore, National Cancer Director for NHS England, Dame Cally Palmer, has said 30,000 patients have not yet started treatment as a direct result of the pandemic.

Dame Palmer said: “We are going further and faster than ever before in our ambitions to diagnose more cancers at an earlier stage so that we can save more lives.”

She added it was “vital that we keep these referral rates high”.

Earlier this year the government launched its 10-year War on Cancer in a bid to develop new treatments.

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