This is an unprecedented time in our history. The COVID-19 pandemic is far-reaching and is having an undeniable impact on people across Canada and around the world. At the start of the pandemic, the impact of COVID-19 led to a quickly changing environment and our government and healthcare leaders made incredibly difficult decisions to make sure there was capacity to support those affected by the virus. But as governments responded to the crisis, we were hearing from people with cancer whose surgeries were postponed, treatment plans changed and tests delayed, who were worried about becoming collateral damage of COVID-19.
Cancer doesn’t stop
Cancer doesn’t stop being a life-changing and life-threatening disease in the middle of a global health pandemic. People living with cancer are among the most vulnerable in our communities right now and are at higher risk of more serious outcomes from COVID-19. Quarantines and physical distancing measures, while necessary, isolate people with cancer from their family support network, compounding the stress and anxiety that comes with a cancer diagnosis and during treatment. This is especially a concern among seniors, where cancer rates are higher.
The immediate impact of COVID-19 on people living with cancer is easy to understand but the long-term effects will be equally devastating. There will be a significant backlog to our healthcare system with cancer patients who have gone untreated, hopeful their cancer hasn’t spread.
As our healthcare system continues to adapt to the impacts of COVID-19, the needs of Canadians affected by cancer must not be forgotten. Cancer is a life-threatening disease that more than one million Canadians are living with and beyond. The impact of continued cancelled diagnostics, treatments and appointments to our healthcare system and the health outcomes of Canadians will be devastating.
Making sure your voices are heard
As the voice for Canadians who care about cancer, CCS is committed to bringing forward the concerns of those affected by cancer to all levels of government to ensure their needs are reflected in the medium and long-term response to COVID-19.
Recommendations for governments to ensure they prioritize people with cancer in their health care decision making for COVID-19
The immediate impact of COVID-19 on people with cancer is easy to understand. But the long-term effects will be equally devastating and action needs to be taken now to mitigate them. The Canadian Cancer Society encourages all governments and health organizations to apply the following guiding principles to their healthcare decision-making for COVID-19:
- The safety of people with cancer, their caregivers, healthcare providers and staff working in the health system needs to be a priority.
- Governments and health organizations must integrate perspectives of the public, people with cancer and caregivers in their COVID-19 response.
- Canadians must have equitable access to cancer screening, diagnostics and treatment regardless of where they live across the country or within a region.
- Inequities across cancer care are likely exacerbated during the pandemic. Resumption plans must address the unique needs of vulnerable and underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by cancer and should ensure equitable access and participation in services.
- Data monitoring and research on COVID-19 must include a focus on the long-term impact of public health measures and health system response on people living with cancer.
- Public health measures and coping mechanisms for COVID-19 have impacted behaviours that increase cancer risk. Cancer prevention must be a priority in public health planning during and after the COVID-19 response.
- Government, professional associations and healthcare organizations must raise awareness with Canadians that healthcare settings are safe and that participation in regular screening and appointments with doctors to discuss changes in health should not be delayed.
- Organized screening programs for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers must resume at full capacity as soon as it is safe to do so and all efforts must be made to not pause their delivery again.
- Rapid access to diagnostics for those suspected of having cancer must be prioritized.
- Innovative solutions must be adopted to address the clinical backlog and reduce wait times, especially for postponed cancer screenings and delayed cancer surgeries.
- All Canadians must have equitable access to the cancer drugs they require without financial hardship, regardless of where they live and where the drugs are taken. This requires ensuring take-home cancer drugs are covered in every region and drug shortages are addressed.
- Psychosocial support for people with cancer, survivors and caregivers must be integrated in models of care.
- All people with cancer must have access to high-quality, person-centered palliative care and end-of-life care regardless of their age or where they live.
- Caregivers are an essential part of healthcare team and must be allowed to accompany people with cancer to treatments and appointments.
- Equitable access to transportation and accommodations to help people get to and from cancer appointments must be enhanced as part of the health system.
- Health systems must continuously assess how they provide virtual care, understanding the benefits, risks and optimal implementation to ensure positive patient outcomes.
- Provinces and territories need to take steps to reduce the impact of a second wave of COVID-19 for all Canadians, but especially people living with cancer who rely on our health care system.
- All levels of government must clearly identify when people living with cancer and cancer survivors will be vaccinated as part of COVID-19 immunization programs and prioritize their vaccination before the general population.