The pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was declared in March 2020. The first wave of the pandemic was marked by strict epidemiological measures: lockdown, social distancing, and self isolation. Cancer patients receiving systemic oncology treatments were considered a high-risk population regarding COVID19. These new circumstances posed possible obstacles for the treatment continuation, which in turn potentially led to an increase in distress. This study aimed to examine the impact of COVID-19 outbreak on a distress level among cancer patients.
A total of 728 cancer patients, in 9 oncology centers, were approached to participate in the study. The study questionnaire with disease and sociodemographic characteristics was completed by 422 patients. Patients were stratified by cancer type: breast, gastrointestinal (colon, gastric, pancreatic), and other cancer types (lung, prostate, ovarian); and by disease stage, early or metastatic. All patients had to have an ongoing active oncology treatment which required regular visits to outpatient clinics or inpatient oncology departments. Distress level was measured using the Distress Thermometer with a cut-off value of 4.
There were 201 (47%) patients with breast cancer, 130 (32%) patients with gastrointestinal cancer (colon, pancreatic and gastric cancer), and 92 (21%) patients with other types of cancer (lung, prostate, ovarian). A total of 192 (46%) patients had early disease stage while 230 (54%) patients had advanced disease, respectively. A high distress level was reported in 189 (44.8%) of all patients. The breast cancer patients had significantly higher levels of distress when comparing with other types of cancer. There was no significant difference in distress level regarding disease stage.
Almost every second cancer patient with ongoing active oncology treatment was highly distressed during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, regardless of the disease stage. Breast cancer patients tend to have higher levels of distress when comparing with other cancer types. When evaluating distress during a pandemic one should take into account the possible impact of various aspects of COVID-19 disease and pandemic on a distress level in cancer patients.
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All authors have declared no conflicts of interest.