For Cancer Patients, the Pandemic is Not Over

COVID-19 concerns persist as Canadian society re-opens

OTTAWA, ON, July 25, 2022 /CNW/ – A recent Canadian Cancer Survivor Network (CCSN) survey shows Canadian cancer patients and caregivers remain fearful and stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most surveyed continue to take measures to protect themselves and those they care for even as governments across Canada lift public health restrictions.

This is the fourth CCSN survey in a series conducted by Léger to determine how cancer patients and caregivers from coast-to-coast are coping with the pandemic as it enters its third year.

“The survey results tell us that many cancer patients and caregivers still believe that COVID-19 poses a serious risk for them, and that they feel the weight of responsibility for keeping themselves and their loved ones safe,” says Jackie Manthorne, President and CEO of the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network.

Lifting of public health restrictions make some patients feel less safe

Half of the respondents to CCSN’s survey said they were uncomfortable with the lifting of public health restrictions where they live, and one in five said these changes would have a negative impact on their lives.

Both patients and caregivers openly shared their concerns. ‘COVID still exists’, said one patient, while another stated that their provincial opening was ‘too fast and [did] not look at actual case numbers.’

“The restrictions being lifted scares me. It makes me feel less protected,” said a stage 1 patient with multiple cancers in Alberta. “I have [been] home and alone even more now than when there were restrictions.”

Concerns for immunocompromised patients

For immunocompromised cancer patients, the negative impact is even greater. “With my husband being immunocompromised, it is even more dangerous to leave the house,” wrote a caregiver for a patient in British Columbia. “Lifting the restrictions means we need to stay home even more.”

Just over one in four patients in CCSN’s survey – 26 per cent – are immunocompromised, and 41 per cent of caregivers care for an immunocompromised patient.

Masks and other protective measures seen as important

Most patients and caregivers feel the need to continue taking measures to protect themselves or those they care for from COVID-19. Four in five respondents said they planned to continue wearing masks. Many stressed the importance of masks as an easy and effective way to hinder the spread of COVID-19.

Many respondents feel a greater burden of responsibility to take measures to protect themselves now that public health restrictions have been lifted. “I still do not go to many stores. And I am still wearing my mask. I still avoid crowds and I do not visit people – so I am basically still self-isolated,” said a breast cancer patient in Nova Scotia.

Access to care remains a concern

Availability of healthcare remains a prevalent area of concern: 55 per cent of respondents worry whether they will receive care in an emergency room, and 53 per cent have concerns about whether they will receive cancer treatment in a timely fashion. Half of all respondents said they are not comfortable visiting a hospital because they feel the risk of getting COVID-19 is too high.

Cancer patients and caregivers are well-aware of the strain the pandemic has placed on the healthcare system and its effects on their access to care. “I worry that due to the sixth wave (which is a result of restrictions being lifted), hospitals will again be overrun,” said a thyroid cancer patient in Ontario. “As a result, surgeries will likely be postponed again, resulting in delayed diagnosis and worse prognosis for cancer patients.”

Don’t leave cancer patients behind!

“Cancer patients and caregivers should not need to choose between protecting themselves from COVID-19 and participating fully in society. They need to know that the healthcare they depend on will be there for them when they need it most.

“When the next COVID-19 variant emerges or when the next wave arrives, governments and health institutions must be ready so that cancer care is never disrupted, and cancer patients are protected,” concludes Manthorne.

The CCSN will continue to share data from this important fourth Léger survey – as well as the three surveys that precede it – informing Canadians and policy makers from across the country about the impact of the pandemic on cancer patients and caregivers.

About the survey

Entitled “Impact of COVID-19 Crisis on Cancer Patients,” this national online survey, conducted between April 13th and May 12th, 2022, is the fourth in a series of research studies conducted by Léger for the CCSN. These studies aim to assess the extent to which the disruption of cancer care caused by the COVID-19 is impacting cancer patients and caregivers, especially with respect to their mental health and physical wellness.

This fourth study focused on cancer patients’ and caregivers’ levels of anxiety and concerns about receiving adequate cancer care now that COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted. The respondents comprised 1100 people with a cancer diagnosis and 253 caregivers for cancer patients. In addition to the national data, regional data is available for British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada.

The CCSN Léger reports are available for all four studies conducted from 2020 to 2022. In June 2022, the CCSN also published a report summarizing the first three of these studies, titled Thrown Under the Bus! Disruption of cancer care in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.