According to our Leger commissioned survey on the Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer Patients and their Ability to Receive Treatment – Wave 2, cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, and those awaiting confirmation of a diagnosis are currently experiencing levels of anxiety that are similar to levels seen during the first wave. Seventy-two percent of respondents in the second wave (vs. 74% in Wave 1) have reported that delays in appointments and treatments have had a negative impact on their mental and emotional health. Patients who have metastatic cancer (64%), were recently diagnosed (63%), and who have lung cancer (63%) reported the highest levels of anxiety.
A stage 4 kidney cancer patient from Quebec expressed concerns that their “follow-ups [would] take place later than planned” and that their “metastases [would] develop faster than expected [making] it much more difficult, if not impossible, to treat”. Since cancer can progress rapidly, especially when someone is already at an advanced stage, any delays in treatment can decrease one’s chances of survival.
For those who have been recently diagnosed, it is essential that they receive treatment immediately as cancer is most curable in its early stages. As radiology departments work to manage the growing number of patients on wait lists, they have had to prioritize those with the most urgent cases. However, this does mean that lower priority patients who continue to wait for treatment or screening may experience a progression of their cancer in the interim.
COVID-19 has also been a significant source of stress for caregivers as they worry about the safety of those they care for. A caregiver for a stage 4 kidney, liver, lymphoma, and prostate cancer patient said that the pandemic “added stress, anxiety and worry” as they had to witness their loved one’s “pain and suffering due to missed appointments for comfort care”. They also described their fear that hospital restrictions on visitors would leave the person they care for “alone at the end of their life, unable to be around family, which is what they value most” if they contracted COVID-19.
Additionally, 13% of those surveyed avoided booking an appointment with a doctor for their cancer even if they required one largely due to a fear of contracting COVID-19 or an outbreak occurring at a hospital or clinic. They are in the untenable position of deciding whether to prioritize their cancer treatment or limiting their exposure to COVID-19. One respondent told us “My exposure to [COVID-19] is heightened by being in contact with medical centers and my immune system is compromised due to the cancer and treatment. My age is a factor as well. I could be looking at the end of my life”.
Despite the additional safety measures that hospitals and clinics have put in place, the fear of contracting COVID-19 is still prevalent amongst cancer patients. As one respondent explains “I don’t think anything would make me feel more comfortable unless a vaccine becomes available”.