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Cancer Care Can’t Pause in a Pandemic

3D illustration of a cancer cell
3D illustration of a cancer cell

Jackie Manthorne

President & CEO, Canadian Cancer Survivor Network

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt by everyone around the world. For those with non-communicable diseases, the pandemic has disrupted access to appointments, tests and treatments, resulting in a profound impact on patients’ physical and mental health.

In fact, a recent survey released by the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network (CCSN) revealed that the disruption of cancer care due to COVID-19 has triggered an entirely new public health crisis. According to the survey, more than half (54%) of Canadian cancer patients, caregivers, and those awaiting confirmation of a diagnosis have had their appointments, tests and treatments postponed or cancelled altogether, causing heightened fear and anxiety during an already stressful time.

Timely and safe access to essential cancer care should remain a top priority across Canada during COVID-19, or any other public health crisis. But CCSN says that this has not happened, and the results are starting to show.

Cancer can’t wait. It can’t be cancelled or postponed.

Jackie Manthorne, President and CEO of CCSN.

“Cancer can’t wait. It can’t be cancelled or postponed,” said Jackie Manthorne, President and CEO, CCSN. “We now know that the huge physical, psychological and financial impact of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, while also facing cancer, has put these Canadians in double jeopardy.”

The most affected group have been those awaiting confirmation of a diagnosis (74%), as well as recently diagnosed patients (73%), who are at a critical time in their cancer journey but simply aren’t receiving the treatment they need.

And while some patients have been able to contact their doctors and have virtual consults during the height of the pandemic, nearly two-thirds (71%) are still concerned about access to in-person care and receiving the necessary tests or treatments.

The emotional toll of the pandemic on those with cancer

In addition to the physical impact of COVID-19, the disruption to healthcare has also taken a considerable psychological toll on patients, with 74% saying that delays in appointments and treatments have significantly impacted their mental and emotional health. Even as pandemic restrictions begin to lift in various parts of the country, ongoing concerns about receiving the proper care continue to fuel anxieties, especially among caregivers (91%) and those with metastatic disease (67%).

To save lives, it’s imperative that cancer care and diagnosis continues during all public health crises. The CCSN urges governments to include essential cancer care in all pandemic planning, to ensure those facing cancer and their caregivers have safe and timely access to care. This is especially timely as governments begin to prepare for a second or third wave of the pandemic.

“During these unprecedented times, we urge federal, provincial and territorial governments to ensure safe and timely access to essential cancer care and diagnosis – now and in the future – because cancer can’t wait,” added Manthorne.

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