In the midst of this unique and unprecedented COVID-19 health crisis, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, and a vast amount of other treatments, are currently and involuntarily being placed in a precarious situation. From treatment delays to potential health complications, there are many contributing factors to the stress and anxiety felt by cancer patients throughout the globe as we journey through this situation. This new reality for those facing cancer comes as a result of extensive research conducted by various health professionals, as one of the early and significant findings suggested that those with pre-existing health conditions were at the greatest risk of complications from the coronavirus.
With the knowledge that cancer patients could potentially be at risk of further health complications, the concern of contracting the coronavirus greatly compounds the typical challenges associated with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, like side effects of treatment, anxiety, depression, and financial stress.
This increased anxiety surrounding COVID-19 for cancer patients is not without legitimate reason. Data from a WHO report published in late February suggests that the fatality rate for patients with cancer diagnoses with COVID-19 was 7.6%
That rate is more than 5X higher than the fatality rate of patients with no comorbid condition, which is just 1.4%.
Fatality rates for patients with other conditions compare to those associated with cancer patients:
- Cardiovascular disease: 13.2%
- Diabetes: 9.2%
- Hypertension: 8.4%
- Chronic respiratory disease: 8.0%
Of course, one of the key differences is that individuals with other conditions typically don’t go to medical centers as regularly as chemo patients, who can receive treatment anywhere from once every two weeks to several times a week.
chemoWave is a mobile app to help patients navigate their cancer journey by tracking symptoms, moods, and a number of other important activities like sleep, steps or medications. The app provides insights and trends that helps thousands of users take control of their experience. Since the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S., we noticed a trend in higher levels of anxiety and stress among our users, so we conducted a survey to get some insight as to why.
The results reveal that COVID-19 is having a significant negative impact on our cancer population in a variety of ways.
Increased Recovery Concerns
Poll results reveal that about 30% of respondents are “very worried” that the pandemic will negatively impact their ability to recover or improve their condition. On top of that, an additional 38% responded they are “somewhat worried,” while another 30% are “a little worried.” A mere 3% claim they are “not at all worried” about the potential impact of COVID-19 on their recovery.
The ongoing stress of COVID-19 actually surpasses the uncertainty of cancer treatment for many patients. Respondents are twice as likely to indicate that COVID-19 is causing them more stress and anxiety than their cancer, with the virus topping the list at 60%.
Remote Health Reporting Can Ease Worry for Cancer Patients
New restrictions imposed by hospitals and care centers have impeded a majority of cancer patients’ ability to receive their treatments as originally prescribed. More than half of the cancer patients who completed our survey (59%) claim various aspects of their treatment have been either canceled or delayed because of COVID-19.
The most common cancellations or delays cited include doctor visits (44%), treatment appointments (27%), and/or a surgery or procedure (10%).
Americans nationwide are struggling with feelings of isolation while reducing social exposure or fully quarantining. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy are considered immunocompromised, making it even more important to be strict with quarantine efforts.
Unfortunately, this isolation has the ability to take an emotional toll, with 26% of respondents feeling they’ve been “too isolated for the past month.”
Solutions for Chemo Patients and Healthcare Providers During COVID-19
chemoWave is a mobile app to empower patients by providing them with a sense of control in what can seem like an uncontrollable situation. It helps cancer patients keep an accurate record of their symptoms and informs them about how their activities and experiences are impacting their physical and mental well-being.
The app also allows patients to connect with their doctors from home, reducing coronavirus exposure caused by in-person appointments. From the healthcare provider’s point of view, this feature also helps them keep tabs on their patients while also reducing the burden of over-crowded facilities.
The “My Reports” feature tracks the patient’s symptoms, medications, activities, sleep, and even moods. This key health information is then converted into engaging charts to help identify health trends. The user can then email reports to doctors and other care providers, providing useful data to continue care while reducing the patient’s visits to a medical center.
It’s also important to implement simply solutions to combat overwhelming feelings of isolation. Friends and family members who can’t visit their loved ones with cancer can reach out virtually. Videoconferencing technology is more accessible than ever before, allowing for risk-free face-to-face interactions. If it makes sense, a socially distanced visit in person may also be possible, especially if everyone wears the recommended safety gear, like face masks and gloves.
chemoWave also partners with CaringBridge, which offers shareable, online personal health journals for cancer and other conditions. Using the mobile app, cancer patients can easily share health updates with their community of friends and family, while also receiving private messages for a more intimate level of connection and support.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has certainly added a new level of stress for everyone, but even more so for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment. With the right tools in place, however, communication with doctors and family members can make it easier to stay in touch while still staying safe.
About the author: Lauren Ward is a freelance writer who has been covering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on a variety of sectors. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband and three children.