AstraZeneca’s “New Normal, Same Cancer” campaign, launched at the beginning of October, focuses on a familiar medical crisis brought on by the pandemic: patients who avoid doctor visits out of fear of contracting COVID-19. It affects cancer patients, in screenings, diagnoses and treatments the same as all other ailments, according to numerous studies, and the pharmaceutical company brought its message to this month’s Black Health Matters Fall Summit: Come back, for your own health and well-being.
“It’s time to safely resume care,’’ said Dr. Camille Hertzka, AstraZeneca’s U.S. head of medical affairs oncology, in a prerecorded interview. “It will be important that we work all together to make sure that, again we don’t wait, we don’t delay our routine wellness visits and checkups with doctors.
“It’s important that we continue to see doctors when you have any concerning symptoms, and if you had a prior cancer diagnosis, you need to absolutely go and continue to see your doctor for all the usual visits.’’
Average new weekly cancer diagnoses fell 46 percent within the first two months of the pandemic, according to AstraZeneca, citing a Journal of the American Medical Association report. Hertzka and AstraZeneca head of inclusion and diversity Dr. Arrastene Henry emphasized that the drop in diagnoses likely came from patients simply not going to doctors because of concerns about the virus—thus leaving open the dangerous possibility of cancers being missed, untreated and reaching an advanced stage.
That, once again, exacerbates the well-documented disparity in health outcomes for Black and other non-white patients—including, Henry pointed out, COVID-19 itself—necessitating the “New Normal, Same Cancer” campaign. It includes a website, a minute-long video, fact sheets and postings for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The company is making progress in its cancer drug research, Hertzka said, but, she added: “No matter how many new treatments we develop and bring to the patients, the impact of this treatment will be made on patients only if they are diagnosed as early as possible. And we can’t see that there will be an impact on patient outcome if we bring these medicines too late in their cancer journeys.’’
Henry describes the campaign as “very personal” because, he said, his father died from diabetes complications when he hid his condition from his family. The “New Normal, Same Cancer” message, he said, can provide “that same equitable care that I would have loved to have had for my father. This is not a Black problem, this is a human problem.’’