The situation @(Model.HeadingTag)>
This is an unprecedented time in our history – the COVID-19 health crisis is far-reaching and is having an undeniable impact on people across Canada and around the world. While the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for months and years to come, so too will the needs of people with cancer and their caregivers change as the impacts of the pandemic evolve.
Collateral damage of COVID-19 pandemic @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Because of cancer screening, surgeries and interventions essential to cancer care being postponed, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is deeply concerned that we will see cancer cases diagnosed or treated too late.
This concern is rooted in worrisome trends in cancer care delays across the country. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, between April and September 2020 there was a 20% reduction in cancer surgeries compared to the same timeframe in 2019. A CCS-led survey in July 2020 of people with cancer and caregivers found that almost half (47%) of patients reported having their cancer care appointments cancelled or postponed. We know that when cancer is found and treated early, the changes of successful treatment are better. A Canadian and United Kingdom-led study published in the British Medical Journal shows that just a 4-week delay in cancer treatment increases the risk of death by about 10%.
Severity of the problem greatest in provinces hit hardest by the pandemic @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Each province and territory have experienced and responded to the pandemic differently, requiring a unique response to address the concerns of people with cancer across regions. We know that all screening programs for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer across Canada were suspended in mid-March 2020. Screening programs started to resume at partial capacity in June 2020 with varying dates when they were able to return to full capacity. This screening program pause has created a backlog of screening tests including mammograms for early detection of breast cancer, stool tests for early detection of colorectal cancer and Pap tests for early detection of cervical cancer. Each positive screening test requires follow-up and additional diagnostics to determine if someone has cancer. Cancer treatments were also affected across all provinces. Most provinces saw a reduction in operating room availability, and elective surgeries were postponed. Oncologic surgeries were delayed at the discretion of treating physicians. Screening and surgical backlogs have cost and capacity implications for our healthcare system.
Underserved communities disproportionately affected @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Pre-pandemic, lower rates of screening uptake are shown among underserved communities, including First Nations, Inuit, Métis, immigrants, visible minorities, people living with low-income and rural-remote populations. Inequities in screening uptake may potentially be exacerbated during the pandemic. Any screening resumption plans should include program activities to ensure equitable access and participation in cancer screening services.
What we are hearing from you @(Model.HeadingTag)>
We continue to hear from people affected by cancer who say they are frustrated by a lack of access to their healthcare teams. Through our support programs, we hear from people with cancer who believe they are collateral damage of the COVID-19 pandemic. When we surveyed Canadians in early 2021, only 36% felt the federal government successfully cared for cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, while only 38% believed their provincial government cared for cancer patients.
What we are doing to stand up for people affected by cancer @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Cancer continues to be a matter of life and death during the COVID-19 pandemic. It isn’t waiting for the healthcare system to address backlogs, and it doesn’t stop being a life-changing and life-threatening disease during a global health pandemic.
As the voice for Canadians who care about cancer, we have brought this issue forward to all governments and called for immediate, urgent action to address the backlogs in cancer screening and care. We have made sure every government official we speak to understands that this is an issue of top priority that cannot afford to wait, because cancer will not wait.
You can help by making your voice heard. Join us by signing on to CCS Voices for Change, our volunteer group specifically for those wanting to be involved in our advocacy work and take action to change policies that will help the lives of those affected by cancer.
To learn more about what we’ve said to the federal government, read our submission to the Standing Committee on Health here.
Read our statement on COVID-19 vaccine prioritization for people with cancer here.
The safety of people with cancer, their caregivers, healthcare providers and staff working in the health system needs to be a priority.
Canadians must have equitable access to cancer screening, diagnostics and treatment regardless of where they live across the country or within a region.
Provinces and territories need to take steps to reduce the impact of future waves of COVID-19 for all Canadians, but especially people living with cancer who rely on our health care system.
Consideration must be given to the timing of the vaccines for people with cancer. Healthcare providers should have the ability to provide COVID-19 vaccines outside of the vaccination schedule and be empowered to determine if their patient will benefit from an additional dose, and the timing of the dose, based on their unique circumstances including cancer type and treatment
Vaccination of healthcare workers should be made mandatory across all public and private settings.
Strategies should be implemented that decrease barriers to accessing vaccines including those faced by underserved and racialized communities.
People with cancer should be prioritized to receive the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before the general population