Cancer and COVID-19

The Board of the European Cancer Organisation has agreed to launch a Special Network on the impact of COVID-19 on Cancer, on a “task and finish” basis to be co-chaired by Board members Mirjam Crul and Mark Lawler.

Discussions have included:

  • Enhanced risks of COVID-19 for a significant number of cancer patients
  • Significant consequences of lockdowns on cancer services
  • Fear of citizens with symptoms of cancer to engage with health care systems
  • Importance of multidisciplinarity and multiprofessionalism in finding pragmatic solutions on the ground during the crisis
  • Experience and protection of workforce and patients has been extremely varied

Our Member Societies, Patient Advisory Committee and others will collaborate on dealing with challenges:

  • Influencing measures as European countries come out of lockdown
  • Real time data needed - measure and analyse experience across Europe
  • New ways to deliver cancer services – given social distance measures
  • How will cancer services be funded during an economic recession
  • Europe-wide co-ordination in tackling future pandemics
  • Workforce and Patient perspective is crucial
No area of cancer care left undamaged. A call for action.

Based on reports received by the European Cancer Organisation from patient representatives and healthcare professionals across many countries, the harmful impacts to cancer services created by the COVID-19 lockdown measures can be evidenced across the cancer care continuum.

Read our Board’s statement on COVID-19: 'Attention is urgently required to protect cancer patients and preserve Europe’s healthcare professional, scientific and patient societies'.

  • Prevention programmes, including HBV and HPV vaccination, have been stalled, with consequent concern about how catchup can realistically occur;
  • Many cancer screening services have been temporarily suspended during the lockdown period, with uncertainty on how quickly the subsequent backlog can be expedited;
  • The emergency situation for the health services has created a deterrence effect when it comes to members of the public seeking medical advice for potential symptoms, of many kinds, from cardiac emergencies to digestive and neurological emergencies, and of course cancer-related symptoms. This is widely expected to have further consequences for later diagnosis of cancer and similar impacts on many other diseases.
  • Across all main modalities of cancer treatment, reports have been received of treatment delay. Indeed, in countries and regions especially impacted by high caseloads of COVID-19, surgery anesthesiologists and nurses have had to be recruited for ICU support, compounding what was already a capacity problem for cancer treatment.
  • Recruitment and conduct of clinical trials has, without surprise, also been negatively impacted.

Added to all of this, are a range of very human impacts, such as terminally ill patients being even further in isolation from their friends and family, and the distress caused by burial and funeral restrictions. Not to be ignored either are the extra strains placed on cancer patients and their families due to the widespread personal economic pressures associated with the lockdown.

The European Cancer Organisation is conscious too that the morale and resilience of Europe’s health workforce overall cannot be taken for granted during this crisis, especially when faced with the potential personal risks raised by shortages of critical material, such as personal protective equipment (PPE).

 

Call for Action

The European Cancer Organisation calls for urgent sharing, and rapid uptake of, best practice on how best to meet the challenges of cancer service normalisation.

Such best practice collection and assessment should be conducted in cooperation with patients and professionals of the concerned areas. It should thereafter inform the creation of guidance to health systems on achieving the most prompt normalisation of cancer service in keeping with any ongoing COVID-19 related measures.

Mass communication campaigns should adequately inform the public and of course cancer patients of the critical need to continue visiting their healthcare professional in case of health complaint and to maintain treatment schedules as advised by their healthcare professional team.

In the longer term, a thorough and deliberative exercise in learning lessons from the January 2020-May 2020 period should be undertaken. This links to an identified need for timely and open debate on improving the structures for health system cooperation in Europe.