Author: Dion Smyth, Senior Lecturer (Cancer and Palliative care), Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK
The global Covid-19 pandemic has profoundly disturbed and continues to disrupt, cancer care and management. Despite professionals and cancer services responding rapidly to the challenges posed by the pandemic with a range of changes to their service delivery, we know that delayed or decreased access to screening, early diagnosis, and treatment has been a typical finding across the globe.
For example, research into the impact of Covid-19 has recounted that breast cancer screening declined in communities of color and populations of income deprivation in the US (Feweda et al, 2021); whilst, in the UK, Cancer Research UK estimates 3 million fewer people were screened, compared to pre-pandemic levels of activity (CRUK, 2021). Englum et al (2021) found that there was a significant reduction in the number of cancer diagnostic procedures, such as colonoscopies or prostate biopsies undertaken. Waiting lists and times for treatment of cancer are at record levels in the UK (NHS England, 2021), all of which clearly impact the mental health and well-being of patients waiting and worried about their diagnosis and, potentially, treatment outcomes.
So, what can nurses do?
Obviously, the various government and population and individual responses vary, and so practitioners will work within the political and practical frameworks of their nation-states; however, there is still much that can be done. For example, we might lobby for more resources, whether that is local or a broader societal issue.
Nurses can advise, inform or advocate for the vaccination program so that the impact of incidence in a population can be mitigated, just as the vaccination against oncogenic viruses, such as HPV is known to lessen the burden of cervical cancer.
We might also look at how we can share our experiences, examples of good practice, and practice development so that our colleagues across the globe can gain insights into new ways of working. To that end, writing a blog piece for the ISNCC site is a good and commendable place to start.
CRUK (2021) Our research into the impact of COVID-19 on cancer Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/our-research-into-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-cancer
NHS England (2021) Caner Waiting Times available at: https://view.officeapps.live.com/op/view.aspx?src=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.england.nhs.uk%2Fstatistics%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2Fsites%2F2%2F2021%2F12%2FCancer-Waiting-Times-National-Time-Series-Oct-2009-Oct-2021-with-Revisions.xlsx&wdOrigin=BROWSELINK
Englum, BR et al (2021) Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on diagnosis of new cancers: A national multicenter study of the Veterans Affairs Healthcare SystemCancer https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.34011
Fedewa, SA et al (2021) Changes in breast cancer screening rates among 32 community health centers during the COVID-19 pandemicCancer 127(23): 4512-4515 https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.33859