Psychological distress high in patients with cancer during COVID-19 pandemic
medwireNews: Two independent studies presented at the IASLC 2020 World Conference on Lung Cancer have highlighted the heightened psychological distress experienced by patients with cancer – especially those with lung cancer – during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In one study, presented by Domenico Galetta (IRCCS Istituto Tumori “Giovanni Paolo II”, Bari, Italy), 176 patients being treated for lymphoma (n=77), lung cancer (n=59), or breast cancer (n=40) completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and the Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-r) questionnaires.
He described high levels of anxiety, distress, and depression in 58.4%, 55.0%, and 44.5%, of patients, respectively. These HADS-measured outcomes were comparable between female and male patients, but were almost all significantly higher in patients with lung cancer than those with breast cancer or lymphoma.
For example, the average score for anxiety was 11.3 points among patients with lung cancer versus 8.1 and 6.4 points for those with breast cancer and lymphoma, respectively. Galetta attributed this increased mental distress in patients with lung cancer to their “impaired respiratory function, making them more vulnerable.”
A further 23.7% of the total cohort reported severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on the IES-r. And notably, higher levels of PTSD were reported by significantly more females than males.
The majority (70%) of patients said their worries grew during the pandemic, with the most common concerns being getting COVID-19 while at the hospital (51%) and subsequently infecting their families (39%). Other sources of worry included the risks associated with delaying therapy, having to socially distance from loved ones, potential difficulties contacting their oncologist, and financial difficulties.
More women cited each of these concerns than men, with the exception of worrying about financial difficulties, which was reported by more men than women.
Galetta concluded that “[s]pecial interventions to promote mental well-being in patients in this period of coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) need to be implemented as soon as possible, especially with regard to women and lung cancer patients.”
He said in a press conference that in order to aid patients’ mental health, emphasis should be placed on delivering COVID-19 vaccinations “as soon as possible.”
The findings of the second study were similar, with a trend toward increased feelings of isolation, vulnerability, and anxiety regarding the ability to participate in life moments with loved ones among the 260 participants with lung cancer surveyed between March and October 2020.
On the other hand, average patient anxiety levels “showed little change” during this time period, said presenting author Christina Sit (Lung Cancer Canada, Toronto, Ontario).
She pointed out that to help relieve feelings of anxiety and improve wellbeing during the pandemic, patients said they wanted resources to increase both awareness and education.
Specifically, the top three patient-ranked forms of support included clear communication from healthcare teams, increased communication from lung cancer organizations, and virtual support groups facilitated by healthcare professionals.
Sit concluded: “As lung cancer survivorship increases, and as the pandemic has shown, [mental health] is an area that cannot be neglected.
“As future care models are reassessed based on learnings from the pandemic, mental health care must be included in the management of these patients.”
medwireNews is an independent medical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Ltd. © 2021 Springer Healthcare Ltd, part of the Springer Nature Group
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