With treatment delayed in COVID-19 crisis, cancer patients fearful
A follow-up to an early April survey by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network has found that cancer patients' worries about delays or other complications in their treatment due to COVID-19 have greatly increased, even as states including New Jersey continue to reopen on the downslope of the virus' peak.
The first survey revealed one-third of all patients felt the pandemic would impact them further as time went on — and the newer poll suggests that's borne out.
In the April poll, 51% percent of respondents reported some impact in their care already. In the newer one, that number was up to 87%.
One in five in the more recent survey expressed concern that their cancer could be growing or returning in the absence of screenings which have just started to be scheduled again. Elective medical procedures were allowed to resume in the Garden State just one week ago.
And the percentage of people who said their treatments had in fact been delayed went way up, from 27% to 79%.
"People that have had cancer treatments potentially put on hold, did their cancer grow, did their stage change, what were the outcomes that we've seen?" Sam DeAlmeida, New Jersey government relations director for the Cancer Action Network, said.
Almost a quarter of the respondents said they had problems even contacting their providers for answers to questions, with the entire medical community preoccupied with the coronavirus.
"Just being able to get somebody on the phone and not a robotic message, or having to leave a message and wait for a phone call back, has been a huge struggle," DeAlmeida said.
Nearly half (46%) of patients surveyed now say the pandemic has changed their financial situation and ability to pay for care, up from 38%, and nearly half again, 48%, reported that their mental health has been moderately or majorly affected.
DeAlmeida said those two responses are not at all unrelated.
"It all ties together as far as the financial impact, the stress from worrying about screenings or delayed procedures, I think all of these things certainly build on one another," she said.
The Cancer Action Network plans to conduct a third survey on the relationship between COVID-19 and cancer care, and DeAlmeida said there was an expectation that some of the high percentages in this survey might settle down as the strain on hospitals lessens.
She urged cancer patients to speak up and be honest about the roadblocks they've experienced these past three months.
"Don't be afraid to share your stories and your struggles, because there's likely somebody else out there that is perhaps going through the same thing or a similar situation, and you're not alone," she said.