Cancer Survivors Concerned About Treatment, Health Care Disruptions During COVID-19 Pandemic

February 26, 2021
Aislinn Antrim, Assistant Editor

Study findings illustrate the need for better communication between health care providers and patients experiencing concerns during the pandemic.

A new study has found that early in the COVID-19 pandemic, one-third of cancer survivors were concerned about potential disruptions to treatment or health care.

According to the study, published in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, the impact of the pandemic on cancer survivors and the broader health care system has been widespread and exacerbated preexisting gaps in medical care. Investigators examined cancer survivor concerns around treatment, infection, and finances early in the pandemic using data from a survey taken between March 25 and April 8, 2020.

Many survivors experienced disruptions in treatment, according to the study findings. A majority (77%) worried that they are at high risk for serious health impacts and were concerned about intensive care unit admissions or death if they were infected with COVID-19. Furthermore, 27% worried that the pandemic would make it difficult to afford cancer care and said they were concerned about deciding whether medications or food would be more important.

The fear of infection and uncertainty over risk levels was pervasive for cancer survivors, leading to reported self-induced measures to reduce their risk of infection. These measures included strict social distancing and mask wearing. As a result, many respondents described feeling socially isolated, including loneliness and feelings of overall isolation during the pandemic.

The investigators said an unanticipated theme was the concern expressed around the inability to bring a friend or family member to in-person appointments. Although participants understood and respected the limitations to protect health care staff and patients, cancer survivors seemed to be caught off-guard by the new rule, especially when receiving difficult news, such as a cancer recurrence.

“This study demonstrates the importance of clear communication between health care providers and patients experiencing concerns and uncertainties that may affect mental health during the pandemic as the care provision landscape continues to change,” said study leader Corinne Leach, MPH, MS, PhD, from the American Cancer Society, in the press release.

The investigators also said their findings illustrate the potential need for policy changes, including increasing federal Medicaid funding to ensure individuals can get health coverage should they find themselves uninsured, continuing to offer and increase funding for CDC cancer screening programs, and providing funding to the National Institutes of Health to restart stalled clinical trials.

“The delays and cancellations noted by cancer survivors in the survey highlight the need for policy interventions and new delivery models that make it safe for cancer patients to receive care, and the need for public policies that address the financial worries associated with the pandemic,” the authors wrote in a press release.

REFERENCE

One-Third of Cancer Survivors Worried About Treatment and Healthcare Disruptions During the COVID-19 Pandemic [news release]. American Cancer Society; February 24, 2021. http://pressroom.cancer.org/CScovidworry. Accessed February 24, 2021.