Half of pediatric cancer patients delaying care due to COVID-19, Duke study finds


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — After looking at challenges facing caregivers of children with cancer, a Duke doctor found a large portion of children were not going to their health appointments.

“Everyone has had to make adjustments for sure and it’s easier for some than for others,” sad Dr. Kyle Walsh, an assistant professor of neurological surgery at Duke. He’s also part of the Duke Cancer Institute.

Walsh’s new study is now published in the Pediatric Blood and Cancer journal.

The study found 50 percent of parents are cancelling or delaying doctor’s appointments for their children with cancer. Walsh said those delaying care are largely families with children in cancer remission. However, delays in imaging and blood work could hinder a doctor’s ability to spot issues.

“Parents thought of their children as immunocompromised so they were really fearful about bringing their kids in,” said Walsh.

Obstacles to care

Delays are not always by choice.

“When is the best time to take a child who has cancer to their physician appointment? Well if you have other children, it’s probably when the other kids are at school. Well now if children are home from school, you don’t have that opportunity so now you have to take them with you.”

The situation spirals from there. Visitor restrictions at many health facilities would not allow the other children in. Hiring a sitter means breaking your family’s safety bubble by bringing in someone outside your household.

“Parents were expressing to us a lot of concern that potentially a tumor had returned and maybe they didn’t know,” Walsh said.

All this adding more stress on top of families. The study also found:

  • 28% lost household wages due to the pandemic.
    • 11% having difficulty paying for basic needs and 5% straining to pay for their child’s medical care.
  • 64% felt more sad or depressed than before the outbreak.
  • 77% had increased feelings of anxiety.

“They seem to be very resilient to his whole situation and although they face many challenges,” said Walsh.

Dr. Walsh wants health systems use this data to be possibly more flexible in visitor restrictions so that parents could return to appointments with more ease. He also hopes it can be used to provide more support to families by engaging them with social workers more often.

“They’ve done a commendable and remarkable job at adapting to a difficult situation,” said Walsh.

How immunocompromised adults can stay safe

Recommendations for social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing is especially encouraged for people with immunocompromised systems. To protect your health, the CDC lists the following steps you can take:

  • Continue your regular treatment plan. Don’t stop any medications or treatments without talking to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor, insurer, and pharmacist about getting an emergency supply of prescription medications. Make sure you have at least 30 days of prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines, and supplies on hand in case you need or want to stay home for several weeks.
  • Take steps to care for your emotional health. Fear and anxiety about COVID-19 can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions. It is natural to feel concerned or stressed about COVID-19.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others:

Click here for guidelines for specific risk factors or conditions.

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