FEB 23, 2021 3:46 PM PST

Quantifying cancer survivors' stress during the early months of the pandemic

Approximately one-third of cancer survivors were psychologically distressed during the early months of the pandemic due to concerns about ongoing care, reports a study published recently in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology. The research investigated how the pandemic affected cancer survivors’ worries about treatment, infection, and finances during the beginning months of 2020.

Corinne Leach, MPH, MS, Ph.D., who led the American Cancer Society study, used survey data from the 2019-2020 American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network's (ACS CAN) Survivor Views Panel. The survey included closed- and open-ended online questions from 972 cancer survivor respondents.

The survivors’ responses often articulated uncertainty about future care, fears about in-person appointments, rationed COVID-19 care, recurrence due to care delays, and distress about untreated symptoms, including mental health issues, explain the authors. More specifically, the survey analysis found the following outcomes:

  • “Many survivors experienced disruptions in health care treatments.”
  • “77% worried they are high risk for serious health impact and were concerned about ICU admission or death if infected with COVID-19.”
  • “27% worried the pandemic will make it hard to afford cancer care. Respondents shared concerns of deciding what would be most important in terms of having medicine or food.”
  • “The fear of getting sick and uncertainty over just how worried survivors should be because of COVID was pervasive for cancer survivors, leading to reported self-induced measures to reduce their risk of infection, such as social distancing and mask-wearing.”
  • “Many respondents described social isolation, including overall loneliness and feelings of being isolated due to social distancing, during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • “The concern expressed by survivors around the inability to bring a companion to in-person appointments.”

The researchers hope that their findings will be used to improve healthcare policies and promote clearer communication in medical settings. Dr. Leach says, "This study demonstrates the importance of clear communication between healthcare providers and patients experiencing concerns and uncertainties that may affect mental health during the pandemic as the care provision landscape continues to change.”

Sources: Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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