Cancer Patients see delays in health care during COVID-19 pandemic

Published: Jun. 2, 2020 at 11:24 AM CDT
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While health procedures tighten in the face of COVID-19, Kansas cancer patients find it increasingly harder to find the medical care they need.

Financial stress and mental health issues are making it difficult for cancer patients to navigate health and economic environments.

A survey conducted by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network that was focused on the effects of COVID-19 found that almost 90% of respondents had seen effects of the pandemic on their health care. Compared to the survey they conducted in April this is up by 51%.

Almost 80% said their health care had been delayed. Of this group of respondents 17% reported delays to their cancer therapy.

“I’ve had three procedures since the pandemic started: a lung biopsy which I had to travel 700 miles for, a colonoscopy with biopsies and an epidural injection for pain relief,” says Michele Longabaugh, an ACS CAN volunteer from Wichita. “If I get the virus, I’m at a very high risk; but as a stage four patient, my care cannot wait.”

Over 1,200 patients and survivors responded to the survey. Almost 25% said the pandemic has made it more difficult to get in touch with their health care providers. Lastly, 20% said they worry that their cancer is returning or growing due to the delays they have seen to their health care caused by COVID-19.

“The situation is getting worse, not better for cancer patients during this pandemic,” says Lisa Lacasse, ACS CAN president. “Health practitioners continue to work to balance safety for an immunocompromised population at increased risk for contracting COVID with timely treatment to prevent the spread of cancer. Unfortunately, this results in delays in treatment for many cancer patients.”

Considering financials 46% of respondents said that the pandemic has affected their ability pay for care in some way. Almost 25% said that they worry that they could lose their health insurance due to the impacts of COVID-19.

When mental health is concerned almost half of respondents said that the pandemic has had negative effects on their mental health. Out of the 1,200 respondents 67% said that they worry staying safe will be harder with social distancing and other restrictions being lax in their areas.

Feedback was also collected from a group of providers and caregivers and they also reported concern about the delay in care as well as difficulties providing support for their patients while not being able to see them. Caregivers said that they had anxiety over reopening and putting themselves and their loved ones at risk to exposure to COVID-19.

“A cancer diagnosis brings any number of challenges and stressors, but right now it’s even more fraught with additional barriers to timely and affordable care that could be further exacerbated by job loss – like millions of Americans have already endured,” says Lacasse. “COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the barriers to affordable health care that cancer patients have long faced. The survey responses highlight the increasing and urgent need or Congress to swiftly pass measures that help these patients alleviate their physical, financial and emotional strain during and beyond the pandemic.”

To find more about the study and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network visit