A Canadian survey conducted repeatedly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic reflects a rise in feelings of isolation and vulnerability among patients with lung cancer.
Survey results indicate that patients want educational resources that will allay their anxiety and improve their well-being, and the researchers who administered it believe that finding should guide policies and care during the outbreak.
The study was launched due to anecdotal indicators of anxiety among these patients in the face of Canadian restrictions and lockdowns aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, coupled with the importance of mental health in cancer care, the team wrote in a poster (P39.08). Their findings, consisting strictly of descriptive statistics, were presented by lead author Christina Sit, of Lung Cancer Canada in Toronto.
Study Design and Findings
The researchers started by inviting lung cancer patients to a roundtable discussion on the topic of pandemic-related anxiety. Then, they converted the resulting themes into a quantitative survey and administered it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in English and French. Finally, they gathered a focus group to analyze and discuss results.
In all, 260 patients (80% of them female) responded to the survey, administered in March, April, May, June, and October 2020. Respondents were asked to describe their anxiety in relation to pre-pandemic levels on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 conveying no anxiety and 10 indicating extreme anxiety. Researchers also asked about associated concerns that could arise during the pandemic and affect the mental health of patients in this population.
Although average levels of anxiety showed little change during the window between March and October 2020, the researchers detected trends toward increased feelings of isolation and vulnerability during that time period. Furthermore, patients reported a rise in anxiety about their ability to participate in life moments with those they care about, the researchers noted.
Patients said their distress would be most relieved by clear communication from their healthcare teams and increased communication from lung cancer organizations. They also called for virtual support groups facilitated by healthcare professionals.
The researchers noted that, while “these patient-reported outcomes differ from validated scales,” they are meaningful because they use “patient-generated language to assess thoughts and feelings,” suggesting that they “more accurately reflect patient needs and worries.”
The team concluded that “mental health care is an important aspect of lung cancer care and overall patient health and can influence outcomes.”
“As lung cancer survivorship increases, and as the pandemic has shown, this is an area that cannot be neglected,” the researchers argued. “As future care models are reassessed based on learnings from the pandemic, mental health care must be included in the management of these patients. There is a need for long-term health care strategies and policies to address patient needs.”