Unique psychological challenges in haematological cancer during the pandemic | Dr Nienke Zomerdijk

National collaborative study to identify the psychological impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on haematological cancer patients and correlated factors to inform potential appropriate interventions

14 October 2020

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Psychosocial-Oncology
Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences and Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disruptive effect on people with haematological cancers, who represent a high-risk population due to the nature of their disease and immunosuppressive treatments. We aimed to identify the psychological impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on haematological cancer patients and explore correlated factors to inform potential appropriate interventions.

394 patients completed an online cross-sectional survey on their well-being and experiences during the pandemic. Notable reductions were observed for patients accessing Support Coordinators (51%) and Psychologists (49%) (either via telehealth or face-to-face). Distress and fear of cancer recurrence (FCR) was much higher than results obtained in times without a pandemic; 1 in 3 reported clinical levels of distress, 95% reported clinically significant FCR. Younger age, living in a regional area, financial concerns and perceived risk of contracting COVID-19 were the dominant factors contributing to distress.

Results highlight the additional psychosocial burden brought to haematological cancer patients. Our results indicate a need for (1) public awareness campaigns to encourage uptake of supportive care; (2) innovative solutions to identify distress and unmet needs at a distance during our pandemic times.

Dr Nienke Zomerdijk is the inaugural Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Psycho-Oncology, jointly appointed between the University of Melbourne and the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre alliance. She commenced this position after working in Haematology/Bone Marrow Transplant clinical trials at the Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital (RBWH) and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (2014-2019). Nienke holds a PhD in Psycho-Oncology, obtained from the University of Queensland (2019), carried out at the RBWH and Westmead Hospital in Sydney. Nienke is particularly interested in the psychological issues faced by haematological cancer patients and their family/carers.