The pandemic hit everyone hard on many levels; now, new research from UCSF published in Cancer reports that cancer patients experienced particularly acute levels of loneliness, anxiety, depression, and fatigue due to social distancing and isolation.
"We found that oncology patients were experiencing a deep sense of loneliness," said first author Christine Miaskowski, RN, PhD, a professor in the UCSF School of Nursing. "For these patients, the burden of their symptoms is extremely high, and oncology clinicians can suggest a number of strategies to help them," she said.
The study comes from an analysis of a survey conducted in May 2020 on 606 oncology patients. The survey assessed levels of loneliness, social isolation, anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep disturbance, cognitive dysfunction, and pain. The findings showed that 53% of patients reported loneliness, a number significantly higher than pre-pandemic statistics (32-47%). Within this, roughly one-third reported moderately high degrees of loneliness, and 5.3% reported high levels of depression.
Those reporting loneliness were significantly more likely to be younger people and less likely to be married or partnered. While older cancer patients reported lower levels of loneliness, patients 50 to 59 reported higher levels. Furthermore, higher levels of loneliness were also associated with higher levels of loneliness.
As the authors write, “The symptom burden of these patients is extremely high and warrants clinical evaluation and interventions.” Miaskowski comments that doctors should recommend interventions such as, "Patients should be encouraged to maintain contact with family and friends, and structure their daily routines when possible, through outdoor activities for example, as well as to maintain a healthy diet and sufficient sleep. These suggestions might mitigate some of the negative effects of loneliness."