Before Covid-19, many people told us that being diagnosed with cancer and going through treatment was the scariest thing that they could imagine.
Now, for the thousands of people who are facing a cancer diagnosis in the midst of a global pandemic, their new reality probably feels more frightening and isolating than ever.
The anxieties and concerns of becoming a cancer patient have not gone away – they’ve been made worse by this crisis. And it’s even more concerning to think of the vast numbers of people who have yet to be diagnosed.
These are exceptional circumstances for health and care services, which are working incredibly hard to respond to the challenges presented by Covid-19. The NHS made a vital commitment to ensuring that essential and urgent cancer treatment continued through lockdown, but it’s fair to say that there have been many challenges.
Hundreds of patients will have dealt with delays and changes to their treatment and NHS staff have been under huge pressure to deliver care while many doctors and nurses have themselves been unwell or in isolation.
Some people with cancer may be at a higher risk during the pandemic. According to official NHS advice1, some types of cancers and cancer treatments have been outlined as making people more vulnerable to Covid-19. This includes those who:
- Are having chemotherapy or antibody treatment for cancer, including immunotherapy
- Are having an intense course of radiotherapy (radical radiotherapy) for lung cancer
- Are having targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system (such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors)
- Have blood or bone marrow cancer (such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma)
- Have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant in the past six months, or are still taking immunosuppressant medicine
- Are taking medicine that makes them much more likely to get infections (such as high doses of steroids or immunosuppressant medicine).
It’s important to note that there are other factors that could make someone with cancer more at risk from the coronavirus.
For example, age is a key factor – in the majority of cases the most common age range for patients to be diagnosed with cancer is 59-672, and older age groups are generally more vulnerable to Covid-19.
Most of the deaths from the coronavirus have been people aged over 653. In addition, many people with cancer are also living with other health conditions that increase their risk from the virus, such as heart disease and diabetes.
It is vital that cancer does not become the ‘forgotten C’ during this pandemic. We know that some people may have been nervous about contacting their GP with possible cancer symptoms or concerned about attending appointments due to fear of contracting coronavirus or concerns of adding pressure on the NHS.
It’s important healthcare professionals remind anyone who is experiencing any signs or symptoms of cancer that they should contact their GP as soon as possible4. And we would urge health professionals to support those diagnosed with cancer by informing them to continue with their current treatment, care plan and attend all appointments as planned, unless the patient is specifically advised not to by their healthcare team.
Health professionals up and down the country are doing a fantastic job providing vital care. However, we acknowledge that these are challenging times. Therefore, maintaining good wellbeing is paramount and we encourage professionals to talk about their emotions with either their colleagues, friends or family.
For nurses supporting people living with cancer there are number of places you can visit for advice and to sign post cancer patients to, Check in with your local health teams for the latest coronavirus advice either via your Cancer Alliance and/or local council websites. Or Macmillan provides:
- Advice for health professionals
- A coronavirus hub for cancer patients
- Physical wellbeing advice for cancer patients
- Emotional wellbeing advice for cancer patients
- Advice for cancer patients shielding.
Despite the global pandemic people continue to be diagnosed with cancer, and if cancer doesn’t stop than neither can we. The last few months have been incredibly difficult and demanding on nurses. However, I am personally touched by the incredible efforts shown by healthcare professionals to help those with the coronavirus and those living with cancer.