Sizing COVID-19’s National Impact on Cancer Care

Sizing COVID-19’s National Impact on Cancer Care
Seventeen-site survey will illuminate how and where patients are affected.

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is joining 16 other U.S. cancer centers to conduct a major national survey about the full range of hurdles created by the COVID-19 pandemic affecting access to cancer care services, including prevention, treatment and survivorship.

“As we look back at the first nine months of this pandemic, it has become clear that cancer care is very different from what it used to be,” said Debra Friedman, M.D., director of pediatric hematology and oncology at Vanderbilt. Friedman says the data show a dramatic drop in new cancer diagnoses, follow-up visits, and screening tests.

 “As we look back at the first nine months of this pandemic, it has become clear that cancer care is very different from what it used to be.”

“Patients don’t want to set foot where they perceive people with COVID are,” she said. “We are concerned about the ways that this is changing patients’ behavior.” It’s vital, she stressed, for health care providers to be proactive in keeping patients informed of the all the safety precautions in place, so patients can receive needed health care during the pandemic.

“Our colleagues need to encourage their own cancer patients that it’s safe to seek health care,” she said. “They need to remind patients to keep their appointments and continue their health care maintenance.”

Analyzing Barriers

The consortium will work with the National Cancer Institute and partner cancer centers with the goal of surveying approximately 25,000 individuals. This survey began in September at many centers and will have begun at all participating centers by early December. “At Vanderbilt, we expect that 2,000 individuals will participate. The survey will start within the next few weeks,” Friedman said.

Participating centers will survey cancer patients — survivors as well as those without a history of cancer in their respective catchment areas. The survey asks a broad range of questions that address how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected not only cancer prevention and treatment, but also lifestyle issues such as diet, exercise, and tobacco and alcohol use that directly affect health risks. “Questions also cover how COVID-19 is affecting peoples’ ability to work, and whether they have lost insurance they had through employers,” Friedman said.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, the researchers will enroll and survey participants remotely via phone, email, text messaging and social media.

Differential Impact

One goal is to clarify how the pandemic is affecting different communities, Friedman explained. The data will shed light on how the pandemic’s impact differs regionally, across socioeconomic groups, and in rural versus urban areas.

“The results will be used to guide services that cancer centers provide for the people living in their catchment areas, and to generally inform the oncology community about challenges that individuals are facing,” Friedman said. “If we can understand the issues patients in our community are confronting, we can design interventions to meet their needs.”

“If we can understand the issues patients in our community are confronting, we can design interventions to meet their needs.”