Cancer patients can be more vulnerable to COVID-19 and at greater risk of developing serious complications if they are infected. But that’s not the only virus-related challenge they face.
That’s especially true for cancer patients in Latin America, who are finding diagnosis and treatment blocked due to COVID-19 challenges in the health care system.
Some patients have put off wellness exams or dismissed symptoms because they are worried about contracting the COVID-19 in a clinic or hospital. Others have seen their normal care facilities shut down by government mandates or the financial impact of canceled appointments and procedures. One study in Colombia, for example, found that almost six out of 10 cancer patients reported trouble accessing health services.
Cancer in Latin America
Gaps in care are no small matter for the region, which saw about 1.4 million new cancer cases in 2018. In fact:
- Cancer in Latin America and the Caribbean accounted for over 670,000 deaths in 2019, according to the World Cancer Initiative
- Cancer was the second most common cause of death in the region and the leading cause in Peru
- Lung cancer deaths are expected to almost double for Latin American women and increase by 50% for men by 2030
The pandemic stands to exacerbate cancer challenges by making it more difficult for Latin Americans to receive a timely diagnosis and proper care.
In Brazil, for example, restrictive measures intended to reduce virus contagion limited patient access to diagnosis reference centers in 2020. In response, the nationwide number of documented cancer cases plunged by 35.5% compared to the previous year.
That’s about 15,000 undiagnosed cases of cancer per month.
Psychological & Emotional Wellbeing
The pandemic has also affected the psychological and emotional wellbeing of cancer patients. Often isolated from family and friends by lockdowns and self-quarantine, patients have experienced increased feelings of fear, panic, vulnerability and loss of control.
COVID-related isolation has also resulted in fewer patients enrolled in clinical trials, a pivotal support for cancer research and innovation.
Advocacy & Awareness
As highlighted by a recent Global Alliance for Patient Access webinar, patient groups share common concerns about access to treatment.
Representatives of cancer patient groups from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Canada agreed that:
- Health systems need to find safe and effective ways to ensure that cancer patients can access care
- Patients who choose to stay at home rather than seek treatment due to the fear of exposure to COVID-19 may inadvertently be exchanging one health risk for another
- Delayed care can allow patients’ cancer to worsen and progress.
As the pandemic makes Latin American cancer patients’ uphill battle even tougher, it is crucial that health care systems and policymakers prioritize access to cancer care.