How a global pandemic is affecting cancer care.
By Kate Dilligan | 15/09/2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted virtually every facet of life. For those affected by cancer, this translates into difficulties with treatment, added stress about the proper safety protocols, and even missed appointments. In this article I want to share some recent research that illustrates this impact and provides resources for how to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.
Multiple studies published within the last couple of months suggest that the mortality rate from COVID-19 for people with cancer versus people without cancer is staggeringly different. A study published in May by the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium (CCC-19) found that in a sample size of 2,186 cancer patients who contracted COVID-19 the mortality rate was 16%. This is more than triple the general population’s mortality rate due to COVID-19. The subgroups with the highest mortality rates were those with progressing cancer (mortality rate of 26%), those who are 75 years old or older (mortality rate of 27%), and those who were unable to work, bedridden, or disabled (mortality rate of 36%.) The researchers from the CCC-19 concluded that “active cancer might be a risk factor associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes, especially in patients who have progressive disease.” These findings are especially troubling because the subgroups most affected are also some of the already most vulnerable.
The impact of COVID-19 disproportionately affects cancer patients, however it also affects future cancer patients. According to the American Cancer Society, “At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, elective medical procedures, including cancer screening, were largely put on hold to prioritize urgent needs and reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in healthcare settings. One consequence of this has been a substantial decline in cancer screening.” The emergence of COVID-19 did not lessen the need for consistent screening and preventative care, however it resulted in a severe decline in the number of screenings. According to Epic, an electronic medical records vendor, screening appointments (for cervical, breast, and colon cancer) were down 86% to 94% at the onset of the virus in March. By July these numbers had recovered to approximately 30% but were still down significantly. To translate these percentages into numbers, that’s “285,000 (breast), 95,000 (colon), and 40,000 (cervical) exams” that were missed (Epic Health Research Network.)
Cancer, as much as we’d all wish it would, did not disappear during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is still extremely important to receive treatment and get screened regularly. The American Cancer Society (ACS) has provided some excellent information for cancer patients, caregivers, and for those who need to get screened. The CDC has also published guidelines for clinics that provide screenings here. Stay safe!