One-Third of Cancer Survivors Reported Worry About Health-Care Disruptions Early in the COVID-19 Pandemic

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A new study published by Corinne Leach, MPH, MS, PhD, and colleagues in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology reported that early in the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, one-third of cancer survivors worried about treatment and cancer care disruptions. Using a mixed-methods approach, investigators utilized survivors’ own words to more deeply describe their experiences and worries about the pandemic’s impact on their overall health. 

The article found that the impact of the pandemic on cancer survivors and health care is widespread, and that the pandemic also exacerbated serious gaps in the health-care system.

Corinne Leach, MPH, MS, PhD

Corinne Leach, MPH, MS, PhD

Methods and Findings

For this study, investigators examined cancer survivor worries in relation to treatment, infection, and finances early in the U.S. pandemic. Data for this study came from a survey dated March 25 to April 8, 2020 from the 2019–2020 American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s Survivor Views Panel. 

“This study demonstrates the importance of clear communication between health-care providers and patients experiencing concerns and uncertainties that may affect mental health during the pandemic as the care provision landscape continues to change,” said Dr. Leach, of the American Cancer Society. 

Key findings from this study include:

  • Many survivors experienced disruptions in health-care treatments.
  • 77% worried they were at high risk for serious health impact and were concerned about intensive care unit 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-19 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. 

An unanticipated theme that emerged in the qualitative analyses was the concern expressed by survivors around the inability to bring a companion to in-person appointments. Although participants understood and respected the decision of health-care systems to institute measures to protect staff and patients from COVID-19 infection, survivors seemed to be caught off-guard by the new rule, especially when receiving bad news, such as a cancer recurrence. 

“The delays and cancellations noted by cancer survivors in the survey highlight the need for policy interventions and new delivery models that make it safe for [patients with cancer] to receive care, and the need for public policies that address the financial worries associated with the pandemic,” wrote the authors. 

The study authors concluded, “Early in the pandemic, survivors worried about and experienced cancer care delays, COVID infection, and how the pandemic would affect their prognosis. Health-care professionals need to be aware of cancer survivors’ concerns and uncertainties to provide appropriate care.”

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.