The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health crisis of unparalleled magnitude. As a vulnerable group, cancer patients, survivors, and their carers have been disproportionately affected by the crisis. Recent international reports have emerged reporting significant disruptions to diagnostic pathways and the delivery of cancer services. The psychological impacts of these disruptions, in addition to the effects of the deepening economic crisis and physical distancing measures warrant further exploration. This research investigates the psychosocial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer patients, survivors and carers as it has unfolded in Australia.
This study utilised real-time insights obtained over six months (01 December 2019-31 May 2020) from two Cancer Council NSW services; the 131120 Information and Support Line (n=496) and Online Community (CCOC) forums (n=192). First, call and online post data was analysed to assess trends in service demand and distress levels. We then conducted an inductive conventional content analysis on the 131120 call data, followed by a deductive directed content analysis on the CCOC data. Five dominant themes emerged from our analysis; Psychological Distress, Practical Issues, Cancer Service Disruptions, Information Needs and Carer Issues. From these, we derived several consumer-driven recommendations.
Our research offers timely and novel insights to the limited evidence surrounding COVID-19 and the lived experience of cancer. The recommendations will inform patient-centred approaches to enhance quality of care, influence policy, and inform the design of interventions to support Australian cancer patients and their families, both during and beyond COVID-19.
We propose new or alternative interventions that offer improved psychological and practical support to cancer patients and carers, whilst ensuring safe contact and social connection. Further, we recommend additional guidelines acknowledging the unique challenges faced by vulnerable populations to improve cancer patient outcomes. These recommendations should be implemented and evaluated for effectiveness.