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June 25, 2020 | 3 minute read

Treatment and Well-Being Challenges for Cancer Patients and Survivors During COVID-19

COVID-19 and the actions taken to slow its spread have resulted in numerous challenges for cancer patients and survivors. Close to half of patients and survivors are experiencing financial hardships that affect their ability to pay for care and almost 90 percent report some disruption to their health care, according to a new survey.

This is the second survey by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) focusing on the effects of COVID-19 for patients and survivors.

The survey also shows that relaxed regulations for the pandemic have increased stress and anxiety. Slightly more than two-thirds of cancer patients and survivors – 67 percent – worry it will be harder for them to stay safe when social distancing and other restrictions are relaxed in their area.

“This survey exposes the serious and heartbreaking challenges survivors are currently facing,” said Alice Bender, MS, RDN, AICR’s Nutrition Consultant. “Finding strategies for survivor self-care is important now, more than ever.” AICR has several free resources that may help survivors. iThrive, a free, self-guided online program for survivors, provides individualized small steps for stress relief, spirituality, movement and healthful eating. AICR also has healthy recipes created specifically for survivors and other free educational resources to support healthful choices, adds Bender.

Survey Results

Other highlights of the survey include:

  • 87% percent of respondents reported some change, delay or disruption to their health care as a result of COVID-19, up from 51% in an April survey.
  • Of those in active treatment, 79% reported delays to their health care (compared to 27% in the previous survey). This includes 17% of patients who reported delays to their cancer therapy like chemotherapy, radiation or hormone therapy. The most commonly reported effects for the disruptions in active treatment were for changes to in-person cancer provider appointments and delays in access to imaging services and surgical procedures.
  • 46% of respondents reported a change to their financial situation that affected their ability to pay for care, an increase from 38% in the April survey.
  • Nearly a third of cancer patients and survivors are worried about their ability to afford basic household expenses, such as rent/mortgage, utilities and food. This concern is highly correlated with income.
  • Nearly a quarter (24%) of respondents reported that the outbreak has made it more difficult to contact their providers with questions about their needs as a cancer survivor.
  • Nearly half of respondents reported that their experience as a cancer survivor during the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their mental and/or emotional well-being.
  • 70% of respondents reported difficulty finding protective supplies, such as masks and gloves; 29% reported difficulty affording these supplies.

The online survey included a wide range of US cancer patients and survivors, and was administered April 30 through May 14, 2020. Slightly more than half of the respondents were currently being treated for cancer and one-third received their last treatment within the last three years.

Resources for patients and survivors

AICR offers resources on lifestyle and nutrition for cancer patients and survivors.

National Cancer Institute offers a searchable database of more than 100 organizations that offer emotional, financial and other forms of support for cancer survivors.

National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship offers a list of Coronavirus and Cancer Resources for Survivors, including information on coping with anxiety and food assistance.

For more information about COVID-19 and cancer, read our FAQs About the COVID-19 Outbreak.

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