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COVID-19 is affecting cancer care, even though it shouldn't

COVID-19 is affecting cancer care, even though it shouldn't

Living with cancer is never easy, and the epidemic of COVID-19 made it even more complicated: getting your treatment as planned or being followed-up closely by your clinician may have been compromised.

Every day, cancer patients question the physicians of our personal service My Cancer Navigator about how to cope with the pandemic. A lot of patients are avoiding the hospital right now and don’t dare to bother their family doctor for side effects that have an impact on their quality of life, for example. They just learn to live with it. We heard this more than once in the last months.

What we experience at the Anticancer Fund through My Cancer Navigator is reflected in the data the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) presented during its Virtual Congress 2020. The organisation alarmed the world by proving that delays and cancellations of cancer treatments undertaken to minimise the risk of exposure to the coronavirus have generated a huge backlog in oncology care and research.

In a first study (1) the researchers reached out to oncology centres in 18 countries. Overall, 60.9% reported that clinical activity was reduced at the peak of the pandemic, while nearly two-thirds (64.2%) cited under-treatment as a major concern and 37% expected to see significant reductions in clinical trials this year.

The data also revealed that the cancer treatments most likely to have been cancelled or delayed were:

  • surgery (in 44.1% of centres)
  • chemotherapy (25.7%)
  • radiotherapy (13.7%)

In another study (2), data were gathered from 356 cancer centres in 54 countries. The results are stunning. The vast majority (88%) reported facing challenges in providing care during the pandemic, with 54% and 45% reporting cases of coronavirus among their patients and staff, respectively. And while half (55%) reduced services pre-emptively, others were forced to do so after being overwhelmed by the situation (20%) or following a shortage of personal protective equipment (19%), staff (18%) and medicines (9.8%).  

As a result, 46% of centres reported that more than one in 10 patients missed at least one cycle of treatment, with some estimating that up to 80% of patients were exposed to some harm.

This will have lasting effects on people with cancer and is a serious setback we, a patient-centered organisation, can’t ignore. Therefore, a call to all patients: reach out and ask for help. To your caregivers or to us. We are here to assist you. COVID-19 should not be a burden on your cancer treatment.

To find out what we do for cancer patients, have a look here.

(1) Presented by Guy Jerusalem, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Sart Tilman, Belgium
(2) Abstract 1678P “The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Cancer Care: A Global Collaborative Study” by Abdul-Rahman Jazieh.

Guy Buyens, Medical Director at the Anticancer Fund
Guy Buyens, MD

Guy Buyens (MD) is Medical Director at the Anticancer Fund. His experience comes from the pharmaceutical industry (international clinical research in oncology) and biotechnology, but also from hospital management (CEO of a hospital).