ATLANTA, GA — June 15, 2020 — Cancer patients and survivors are finding it increasingly challenging to get necessary health care as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. Many are experiencing financial stress and mental health issues as they try to navigate the difficult health and economic environment.
An American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) survey of cancer patients and survivors focused on COVID-19 effects found 87% of respondents said the pandemic had affected their health care in some manner, up from 51% in an April survey. Of those in active treatment 79% reported delays to their health care (up from 27%), including 17% of patients who reported delays to their cancer therapy.
“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions state-to-state, my chemotherapy treatment was delayed nearly two months,” shared Kevin Wood, an Augusta resident who was one of the more than 1,200 cancer patients and survivors to participate in the survey. “I was unable to leave North Carolina where my son was caring for me after one of my surgeries. I just recently returned home to Georgia and will be receiving chemotherapy as a result of my delay in care. I’m worried progress might have been lost, but I don’t give up easy and will always do what I have to do to keep going.”
Nearly one in four patients surveyed say the pandemic has made it more difficult to contact their providers with questions about their health care needs, and one in five say they are worried their cancer could be growing or returning due to delays and interruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The situation is getting worse, not better for cancer patients during this pandemic,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). “Health practitioners continue to work to balance safety for an immunocompromised population at increased risk for contracting COVID with timely treatment to prevent the spread of cancer. Unfortunately, this results in delays in treatment for many cancer patients.”
Patients are also under significant financial strain. Forty-six percent said the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted their financial situation and ability to pay for care in some way (up from 38%). And nearly a quarter (23%) said they worry they may lose their health insurance due to the pandemic and its effects on the economy.
This combined medical and financial stress has resulted in nearly half (48%) of patients saying the COVID-19 pandemic has had a moderate or major effect on their mental health. In particular, 67% said they worry it will be harder for them to stay safe when social distancing and other restrictions are relaxed in their area.
The survey also collected feedback from a small group of providers and caregivers who similarly reported concern about delayed care and difficulties providing support for patients while being unable to see them, as well as a lack of personal protective equipment. Caregivers, like patients, reported anxiety over reopening and the increased potential for their and their loved one’s exposure to the virus.
“Throughout the pandemic, my sister and I have been really careful of where we go while trying to continue to care for my mother who is battling breast cancer,” shared Katrina Stephens, an Oxford resident and cancer survivor herself who partook in the survey. “It’s nerve-wrecking navigating how to continue daily life like getting groceries or taking a walk outside. While I’m glad to see businesses able to reopen and a shift back to our everyday lives, it’s been extremely hard to tell what’s safe and not safe as we keep Mom’s vulnerability to the coronavirus top of mind.”
“As our leaders work to address the devastating impacts of COVID-19, I hope they keep the needs of cancer patients and survivors a top priority,” noted Wood. “There is still much more work to be done to ensure cancer patients have access to the care we need.”
Joining hundreds of advocates across the nation, Wood is urging Congress to do so by prioritizing relief for non-profits on the frontlines of the pandemic, like the American Cancer Society, and provide support for millions of cancer patients who rely on its services.
“Like many other Georgians over the decades, ACS was there to provide me with the resources I needed when I was first diagnosed and the support system to continue fighting today. Now they need my help,” added Wood. “Cancer hasn’t stopped amid the pandemic and neither can we.”
The web-based survey was taken by more than 1,200 cancer patients and survivors between April 30 and May 14. This sample provides a margin of error +/- 3% and 96% confidence level. For a full results, click here.