The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges to cancer patients. Many have experienced changes to their care, and some face increased risk of infection or worse prognosis if they are infected. In partnership with the company xCures, Cancer Commons is studying how COVID-19 impacts cancer patients.
Here, our Curious Dr. George asks Cancer Commons Director of Scientific and Clinical Affairs Lola Rahib, PhD, about our findings so far. Dr. Rahib can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Curious Dr. George: Cancer is listed as one of the preexisting conditions that may result in increased susceptibility to the harm caused by COVID-19. In addition, the mass shutdown of many of society’s activities intended to mitigate the pandemic has major impacts on functions of medical care.
Cancer Commons has launched an FAQ page to inform cancer patients of these many interactions. In addition, you have performed a survey of cancer patients to identify their experiences during this pandemic. What are some of your main findings?
Lola Rahib, PhD: Our goal was to understand the impact of COVID-19 on cancer patients through a questionnaire completed by them or their caregiver. A total of 112 patients or caregivers completed the questionnaire from March 24 to April 15. Ninety of those who completed the survey had previously registered for Cancer Commons’ services and received the survey by email. The remaining 22 patients completed the survey through social media platforms.
Of the 112 patients and caregivers who completed the survey, 78 (70%) reported that they or the patient they care for was currently receiving cancer treatment. Canceled or postponed appointments due to COVID-19 were reported by 32 (29%) participants. Thirteen (12%) reported treatment delay because of COVID-19.
Six patients (5%) were newly diagnosed and had to make a treatment decision about a new cancer diagnosis during the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty-one (19%) patients had to make a decision about a treatment change.
Eighty-three reported on whether COVID-19 affected any treatment decisions they had to make. Of these 83, 24 (29%) reported that COVID-19 affected their treatment decision, and 23 gave an explanation. The most common explanations of how COVID-19 affected treatment decisions were “changes to travel for treatment/change in place of treatment,” “changes in travel/living situations/other personal changes,” “changes to surveillance,” “changes, delays, or not receiving treatment to decrease risk of COVID-19 infection,” “continued on treatment that is not working,” and “did not continue to pursue a clinical trial.”
Symptoms of COVID-19 (coughing, fever, shortness of breath) were reported by 16 (14%) patients and caregivers. Six (5%) patients had COVID-19 testing, with one patient still awaiting results, and all of the other five tested negative. Increased anxiety about cancer treatment due to COVID-19 was reported by 72 (64%) participants.
Most of those who completed the survey were the patients themselves (72%), 13% were caregivers, and 15% did not report whether they were a patient or caregiver or played another role. Fourteen percent of the patients were 49 years old or younger (7% younger than 40), 48% were between the ages of 50 and 69, 13% were 70 to 79, 3% were 80 or older, and for 22% of the patients, their age was unknown. Most patients were female (66, or 59%), 30 (27%) were male, and for 14%, the sex was unknown. Thirteen types of cancers were reported, the most common cancer types being breast, lung, and colorectal cancer. Most of the participants were from the U.S. (70%) with 12 countries represented including Italy (7%), Canada (4%), Australia (3%), and the U.K. (3%).
To conclude, changes to appointments, treatment delays, and the impact of COVID-19 on treatment decisions were reported by patients and caregivers. The majority of patients (64%) reported increased anxiety about their cancer treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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