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The balancing act: Prioritizing cancer care in a pandemic

|February 04, 2021
Person with cancer looking through a window
Written by
Titilayo Ajibose

Titilayo Ajibose

Written by
Karley Ura

Karley Ura

Written by
Nancy Dale

Nancy Dale

As the leading cause of death in Canadians, cancer is responsible for 30 percent of all deaths, with experts estimating about 225,800 new cancer cases and 83,300 cancer deaths in 2020.

World Cancer Day is an international day of recognition celebrated annually on February 4 to raise awareness and inspire action for a cancer-free future. Today, we would usually take a moment to reimagine a world where there is equal access to cancer care and treatment, and cancer-related deaths are prevented; but this year, World Cancer Day looks quite different.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on the lives of Canadians, but even more so for people living with conditions such as cancer.

Studies suggest that when cancer care is delayed or inaccessible, it can lead to a lower chance of survival, and cancer incidence or death rates may vary depending on access to, and outcomes of cancer control activities such as screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up.

Yet, delayed screening, detection, and treatment of cancer have become a major concern amid the pandemic. According to a recent survey by the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network (CCSN), COVID-19 has led to the disruption of cancer care, with more than half (54 percent) of appointments cancelled, postponed, or rescheduled. Experts also note that the pandemic led to fewer cancer diagnoses.

With the second wave of COVID-19 continuing and the new variants of the virus adding another level of complexity, action prioritizing timely cancer care should be a key imperative for the healthcare sector. While COVID-19 remains an urgent and ongoing concern, concurrent prioritization of cancer care could help avoid adverse outcomes or continued deterioration of conditions.

With this in perspective, the cancer community needs as much attention, support, advocacy, and care as possible, and everyone has a role to play. World Cancer Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on what individuals, organizations and healthcare authorities can do to improve the outcomes for the cancer community, today and beyond.

Positive action

Positive action must be taken to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the cancer community.

On the part of regulators and healthcare authorities, this includes putting sustainable care policies and creative programs in place to ensure cancer care is not relegated despite COVID-19 realities so that patients who require access to care can obtain it safely and effectively.

Additional support programs are also needed to help cancer patients who have seen delays in appointments and treatments result in adverse effects on their mental and emotional health.

Seeking care when needed

No one knows where the shoe pinches more than he who wears it. In this case, this means patients must be encouraged and empowered to speak up for their needs. Changes in health patterns or other signs of progressing illness should not be ignored but communicated immediately to health professionals.

Though there are increased risk factors for cancer patients the fear of contracting COVID-19 should not override any existing or urgent need for care.

When patients share health updates and concerns, their healthcare team can work with them to determine the best treatment plan.

Get involved

As individuals and organizations, we must show support, raise our collective voice, take personal action, and spread awareness to further the global goal of a world less burdened by cancer.

At NATIONAL, we know the importance of advocacy in communicating the issues that different groups face, and we work with patient advocacy groups in the cancer space to bring light to these issues, catalyze conversation, and drive action for lasting solutions.

——— Titilayo Ajobse is a former Manager at NATIONAL Public Relations

——— Karley Ura is a former Director at NATIONAL Public Relations

——— Nancy Dale is a former Vice-President and Practice Lead, Healthcare at NATIONAL Public Relations