February 4th was World Cancer Day, a day with the aim of raising global attention and inspiring action for a cancer-free future. But this year, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is focusing on a more immediate need: rallying Canadians, governments and healthcare leaders to take action to protect people with cancer and help save lives.
At the start of the pandemic, the impact of COVID-19 led to a quickly changing environment with government and healthcare leaders in Canada making difficult decisions to manage the capacity of the healthcare system. This included postponing surgeries, cancer screening and other interventions essential to cancer care. According to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, between March and June 2020 there was a 20% reduction in cancer surgeries compared to the same timeframe in 2019. A CCS-led survey 5 months into the pandemic of people with cancer and caregivers found that almost half (47%) of patients reported having their cancer care appointments postponed or disrupted.
The relentlessness of the pandemic and introduction of new variants of the virus means the healthcare system is under continued pressure. Some provinces have already exceeded their ICU threshold and many hospitals in those provinces are currently exceeding 100% capacity. This has life-threatening impacts for people with cancer.
“We know that in some regions of our country, treatments are once again being disrupted,” explains Andrea Seale, CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society. “This is compounded by the fact that some provinces that are still trying to clear backlogs from the first wave of the pandemic. This is a crisis and we will see a tsunami of cancer cases diagnosed or treated too late.”
A Canadian-led study published in the British Medical Journal shows that just a 4-week delay in cancer treatment increases the risk of death by about 10%. Through CCS’s support programs, such as the Cancer Information Helpline and CancerConnection.ca online support community, people with cancer continue to share frustrations about the lack of access to their healthcare teams and fears about how treatment delays may affect their cancer outcomes.
“The best way to help people with cancer is to end the pandemic. Follow public health measures including wear masks, practise physical distancing, avoid non-essential travel and get vaccinated when it’s available to you,” adds Seale. “This will not only make a difference in preventing the spread of COVID-19 but it will also help take the pressure off the healthcare system so that it can care for people with cancer. Finding cancer early and treating it in a timely manner leads to the best chances of survival.”
Provinces have taken careful steps to manage healthcare system capacity and keep COVID-19 cases low but Seale adds they must maintain the effort.
“We know governments across the world are focused on the immediate crisis of the pandemic. But as the voice for Canadians who care about cancer, we ask all governments to consider the latest and emerging evidence before decisions are made to further postpone cancer care or screening,” says Seale. “We are also asking governments to share the status of their cancer care plans to avoid future delays so that we can inform people impacted by cancer of the steps being taken to facilitate their care.”
CCS believes the collective actions of people, governments and healthcare leaders over the coming months will be critical to determining how quickly the pandemic will end and people with cancer will get access to the life-saving care and compassionate support they need.
Now more than ever, CCS’s digital and phone support programs are critical to people affected by cancer, providing information, reducing anxiety and limiting feelings of isolation. Programs available include:
- Cancer Information Helpline – a national helpline, available in 200 languages, that is accessible to anyone with questions about cancer (1-888-939-3333 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Community Services Locator – a directory of 4,000+ services supporting those affected by cancer
- CancerConnection.ca – an online forum to share experiences and support for anyone impacted by cancer
- Cancer.ca – our website with trusted health information and a live chat
- Webinars on COVID-19 for cancer patients – sessions provide expert input on central issues affecting people living with cancer and their caregivers
Learn more at cancer.ca