A message from the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network:
The results of a new survey released today by the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network (CCSN) reveal that the disruption of cancer care due to COVID-19 has triggered another public health crisis. In fact, more than half (54%) of Canadian cancer patients, caregivers and those awaiting confirmation of a cancer diagnosis report having had appointments, tests and treatment postponed and cancelled, causing heightened fears and anxiety – even as some pandemic restrictions are lifted. The survey results confirm that safe and timely access to essential cancer care, including diagnostics, testing and treatment, must remain a top priority across Canada during any public health crisis.
“Cancer can’t wait. It can’t be cancelled or postponed,” said Jackie Manthorne, president and CEO of the CCSN. “We now know that the huge physical, psychological and financial impact of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, while also facing cancer, has put these Canadians in double jeopardy.”
Disruption of cancer care causes major physical and psychological impacts
Most affected by the disruption in cancer care during the pandemic are those awaiting confirmation of a diagnosis and recently diagnosed patients (74% and 73% respectively), who are at a critical time in their cancer journey. And while many of those who contacted their doctors (83%) said they were able to have a virtual consult during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost three-quarters (71%) of all surveyed remained concerned about access to in-person care, including being cared for in a hospital/emergency room and receiving various tests and treatment.
“As a breast cancer survivor, I’m vigilant about getting my annual mammograms to make sure that the cancer hasn’t returned. Due to the pandemic, my recent mammogram was postponed, with no word yet on when it will be rescheduled,” said Marcia Barton. “Early detection and treatment are really important. This delay is making me very anxious because I don’t know what is happening inside my body.”
In addition to the physical impact of COVID-19 on those facing cancer, the disruption of care has taken a considerable mental and emotional toll, with the majority of respondents surveyed (74%) saying that delays in appointments and treatment have had a major impact on their mental and emotional health. Even as pandemic restrictions begin to lift, ongoing concerns about receiving adequate cancer care continue to fuel anxieties, especially among those with metastatic disease (67%) and caregivers (91%).
Crisis and pandemic planning must include essential cancer care
Based on these survey results, CCSN calls upon governments across Canada to heed the experiences of those facing cancer and their caregivers by providing for the explicit inclusion of essential cancer care in all crisis and pandemic planning.
“During these unprecedented times, we urge federal, provincial and territorial governments to ensure safe and timely access to essential cancer care and diagnosis – now and in the future – because cancer can’t wait,” insists Ms. Manthorne.
To assess the extent to which COVID-19 has disrupted cancer care in Canada, a national web survey was conducted by Leger on behalf of CCSN among 1,243 people (960 cancer patients, 206 caregivers of cancer patients and 77 patients in cancer pre-diagnosis) from May 22 to June 10, 2020, using Leger’s online panel, LEO, and with participation from the broader cancer community.
For comparison, a probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/-3.2%, 19 times out of 20 for patients, +/-6.8%, 19 times out of 20 for caregivers, and +/-11.2%, 19 times out of 20 for patients in cancer pre-diagnosis.
CCSN works to connect patients, survivors and other stakeholder groups with decision makers and the wider community to engage in discussion and to act on evidence-based best practices to alleviate the medical, emotional, financial and social costs of cancer. To learn more, visit www.survivornet.ca.