ASCO National Cancer Opinion Survey Reports Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer in the US

The survey revealed that approximately two-thirds of Americans reported that their scheduled cancer screenings have been delayed or skipped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) fourth annual National Cancer Opinion Survey revealed that approximately two-thirds of Americans reported that their scheduled cancer screenings have been delayed or skipped as a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“This survey assesses Americans’ perceptions of a wide range of cancer prevention and care issues during a most turbulent time in our country,” ASCO President Lori Pierce, MD, FASTRO, FASCO, said in a press release. “We set out to capture Americans’ views during a time of both a devastating pandemic and a national movement for racial justice. Our goal is to better understand public perceptions and address urgent needs and opportunities.”

The survey is a large, nationally representative survey conducted by The Harris Poll. This year’s survey was conducted online from July 21, 2020 to September 8, 2020 and 4012 US adults were surveyed, including 1142 adults who currently have or have had cancer.

Among those who indicated they were scheduled for a cancer screening test such as a mammogram, colonoscopy, skin check, and Pap/HPV test during the COVID-19 pandemic (37%), 64% reported that it was delayed or cancelled. Moreover, among individuals whose appointments were delayed or cancelled, 66% reported that it was their choice. Sixty-three percent also reported being concerned about being behind on their cancer screening.

“While delaying recommended screenings for a few months is not necessarily dangerous, our biggest concern is that a significant number of Americans might stop getting preventive care for long periods of time or altogether,” ASCO chief medical officer Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FSCT, FASCO, said in the release. “Cancer screenings are critical for detecting cancer early, and early detection is key to successfully treating many cancers. We need to make sure people continue to get their routine, evidence-based cancer screenings within a reasonable time period.”

Other impacts of COVID-19 on patients with cancer included that 81% of people with active cancer indicated that they are limiting their contact with others due to fear of contracting COVID-19. Fifty-eight percent also reported they have had to make a lot of sacrifices in their daily lives because of a heightened risk of COVID-19. Additionally, 45% of patients with active cancer said the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health, and 42% said they wished they had more emotional support throughout the pandemic.

The survey also found that 59% of Americans believe racism can affect the health care a person receives, with black individuals (76%), Hispanics (70%), and Asians (66%) being more likely to hold these views than white individuals (53%). However, only 19 believe race has an impact on the likelihood a person will survive cancer with blacks (27%) and Hispanics (22%) significantly more likely than whites (16%) to be aware of the association. Further, 56% of Americans indicated they believe a person’s health insurance type or status has an impact on the likelihood they will survive cancer.

“Racism undermines public health, and it specifically affects patients with cancer,” Pierce said. “For almost every cancer, Black Americans fare worse than other racial groups. Now is the time to address the systemic issues of health inequity that negatively impact the health of Blacks and other people of color in our country.”

With regard to clinical trials, 75% of respondents reported being willing to participate in a clinical trial for cancer treatment if they had cancer. However, 48% of those surveyed also believe that patients with cancer who participate in clinical trials are not receiving the best possible care. In addition, 75%, including 87% of patients with cancer, reported believing that some people who participate in cancer clinical trials receive a placebo rather than actual treatment.

“Of the nearly 2 million people who receive a cancer diagnosis each year in the United States, less than 5% of adults enroll in clinical trials,” said Schilsky. “This is due in part to pervasive and persistent myths about trials and concerns that they are only a last resort. We need to do a much better job of educating our patients about the benefits of clinical trials. The fact is that clinical trials often offer patients the best—or sometimes only—treatment option for their condition, and these trials offer hope to individuals and at the same time are also the best way to make progress against cancer for everyone.”

Other notable findings from the survey included to 48% of respondents reported using sunblock and 47% indicated they limit their exposure to the sun without sunblock. Forty-seven percent also said they maintain a healthy weight and 42% said they limit alcohol consumption.


National Survey Reveals Racial Differences in Perceptions of Inequities in Health Care and Concerning Delays in Cancer Screenings Amid COVID-19 [news release]. Alexandria, Virginia. Published October 1, 2020. Accessed October 1, 2020.

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