While things are beginning to return to normal following the year-long COVID-19 pandemic, cancer patients and survivors continue to face barriers to treatment.
“While conditions are certainly improving, it remains clear there is more work to be done to ensure patients and survivors can get the health care they need when they need it,” Lisa Lacasse, president of American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said.
According to Survivor Views, a recent survey by the organization found 35 percent of 1,280 cancer patient respondents reported increased obstacles to locating proper access to healthcare since the start of the pandemic.
However, only 16 percent of respondents reported a delay or interruption to their recommended cancer screening within the last three months, in comparison to 26 percent of respondents experiencing similar issues in 2020.
Despite the slight decrease in the number of struggles occurring, COVID-19 is continuing to find ways to disrupt the lives of many patients — even after a year since the start of the pandemic.
The survey revealed disruptions in screening for primary cancer and additional cancers that require different types of monitoring, both attributed to logistical issues that arose during COVID-19 such as staffing shortages, lack of available appointments, and patient concerns about contracting the virus.
“Hopefully as more health care facilities safely resume full operations and more people are able to get vaccinated, screenings—which are essential to early cancer detection and prevention—can be more easily accessed,” Lacasse said.
While juggling difficulty in booking appointments, cancer patients also are emphasizing trouble in balancing the high costs of cancer treatments.
“The overall cost of health care was identified by over one third of cancer patients and survivors (36%) as the most important challenge to address in order to help people with cancer,” the study stated. “This issue is critical because it affects the ability to afford all of the treatments and services needed by cancer patients and survivors.”
Unaffordability was labeled as the top issue for various different demographics and age brackets, especially for individuals with incomes below $35,000 and with privately purchased or employer-based coverage.
Patients with the same level of income also noted that they didn’t receive the best available treatment for their cancer, while others who earned more felt differently about their healthcare provider experience.
For some medical professionals, issues regarding costs of aid and treatments have become more transparent over the course of the last year.
“I think there have been a lot of things that have become clearer to people,” Sen. Mary Daughtery Abrams, co-chair of the Public Health Committee, said “Having how you are situated economically and how that affects your healthcare options is one of the other things that has become so transparent during this.”
Daughtery Abrams emphasized that as a result of financial hardships and other treatment difficulties that patients might be facing, individuals are potentially deterred from seeking the proper medical assistance for their cancer care.
“I think it’s human nature that when you’re stressed out, you’re managing what you can manage on a day-to-day and you’re not looking at those other things that you really should be paying attention to,” Daughtery Abrams said.
As a result of voiced concerns and factual evidence from the survey, many individuals within the medical field are emphasizing the need for policy change in order to break the cycle of frustration faced by many cancer patients and survivors.
“It’s more evidence that policymakers should act quickly to make the increased subsidies available to those buying private insurance on the exchanges permanent, reign in junk insurance plans that leave patients at high risk for shouldering even higher out-of-pocket costs and do everything possible to expand Medicaid,” Lacasse said. “The pandemic has had a serious effect on cancer patients and lawmakers need to do everything they can to lessen the negative long-term impact by ensuring cancer patients can get timely, affordable health coverage that allows them to access the care they need.”
Until then, cancer patients and survivors are continuing to wait for change in order to receive the healthcare needed to surpass the challenging aspects that the pandemic has wreaked on the system.