Lung cancer patients worry about access, research during COVID-19
BY NEIL OSTERWEIL
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Inability to get medical care when needed and the possibility of treatment interruption that could diminish chances for cure appear to be uppermost on the minds of patients with lung cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic, results of a small survey showed.
Lung cancer patients, who already have diminished lung capacity and may be immunocompromised from therapy, are among those at highest risk for serious, life-threatening complications from COVID-19, itself an aggressive, highly transmissible, and difficult-to-treat respiratory disease.
“It’s clear that lung cancer patients are anxious. They are fearful because what our data has shown is that lung cancer patients are uniquely vulnerable to this disease and they have higher rates of severe disease and increased mortality,” said Amy Moore, PhD, director of science and research at GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer.
Dr. Moore and Danielle Hicks, chief patient officer at the GO2 Foundation, discussed the concerns of lung cancer patients in the time of COVID-19 and the advocacy community’s efforts to address those needs in an online panel discussion hosted by the news distribution service Newswise.
The basis for the discussion came from a survey of lung cancer patients and caregivers about their COVID-19 concerns. The survey was a joint project of GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, LUNGevity Foundation, Lung Cancer Research Foundation, and the Lung Cancer Foundation of America.
Focus on lung cancer
As GO2 Foundation staff reported in the panel discussion, a total of 83 patients with lung cancer responded to the survey request over 5 days in early June 2020. The majority of patients had advanced disease – stage III or IV – and more than half were aged over 60 years.
The survey asked patients about their symptoms: what they knew about reducing risk and how to find reliable sources of information, and what they wanted and needed to know about the effects that COVID-19 might have on their care in specific and on their lives in general.
“We looked at their concerns about what happens if they get the disease, so they want information about the latest treatments, what are the efforts that are underway to develop a vaccine,” Dr. Moore said. “They want to understand what immunity looks like, what does it mean in the context of COVID-19? Do we know yet what immunity means? And they also want to know more about testing, what do the different types of tests mean?”
Other concerns expressed by respondents were the potential impacts of the pandemic on lung cancer research, clinical trials, and timely access to treatment, as well as when they could expect to return to normal activities.
The investigators found that concerns varied with age, with patients aged under 60 years especially concerned that the pandemic could result in delay or termination of some lung cancer research and that their care facilities are located in COVID-19 hotspots. In contrast, patients aged 60 years and older expressed a high level of concern that they might be unable to connect with their health care providers in a timely manner.
Resources, advice for clinicians
Ms. Hicks discussed the resources available to patients through her organization and allied groups, including a patient helpline and regular updates on COVID-19.
“A lot of things we’re hearing from the helpline are: Patients feeling socially isolated … how can they kind of come out of their mental health funk that they’ve found themselves in based on this? And we have some peer-to-peer mentoring programs where we provide that direct one-on-one support from patients who have offered to volunteer and be part of our mentorship program, and we also have our online communities, Help Unlocked and Belong, which are really designed for that peer-to-peer support online,” she said.
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Foundation staff also do community outreach to federal and state leaders to identify and communicate the needs of the lung cancer community around issues such as expanding telehealth, testing medical supplies, fairness, and access to treatments and medications.
Clinicians, for their part, should carve out at least some time from a visit, whether in person or via telehealth, to discuss and address concerns about COVID-19 with their patients with lung cancer, the advocacy groups advised.
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