Are cancer patients at higher risk for developing severe COVID-19?

Advanced cancer, chemotherapy may not aggravate risk of severe COVID-19

Radio wave therapy may help combat liver cancer: study Representational Image | Pixabay

People diagnosed with cancer, particularly those who are receiving treatments like chemotherapy, have been postulated to be at increased risk of mortality from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection.

Advanced cancer, and chemotherapy treatment may not increase the risk of developing severe COVID-19, says a new study published in the journal Nature Medicine.

The research, which assessed more than 400 patients hospitalised with novel coronavirus infection, noted that 40 per cent of 423 patients with cancer at a New York City cancer centre diagnosed with COVID-19 were hospitalised.

According to the researchers, including Mini Kamboj from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the US, 20 per cent of the patients developed severe respiratory illness and 12 per cent died within 30 days.

While chemotherapy was not found to be an aggravating factor, they said patients treated with checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy were more likely to be hospitalised with respiratory complications from the viral infection.

While earlier studies from China and Italy suggested that there is a higher COVID-19 death rate in patients with cancer, the scientists said little is known about the interplay between the two illnesses, or how active cancer treatment might exacerbate the effects of COVID-19.

In the study, they analysed the clinical characteristics of 423 patients with cancer and COVID-19, of whom 212 patients were male and 211 were female. According to the study, about 56 per cent of the patients were over 60 years of age, and were more frequently diagnosed with solid tumours, including breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer.

The scientists said 59 per cent of patients also had pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, kidney or heart disease, which have also been associated with increased illness severity.

Of the 20 per cent of patients with severe respiratory illness, they said 11 per cent required high-flow oxygen and 9 per cent required respirators.

According to the study, the risk factors for hospitalisation included having a blood-cancer diagnosis, non-white race, corticosteroid use, and immune-checkpoint-inhibitor drug therapy.

The scientists said the risk factors for severe respiratory illness were similar but not identical.

The researchers said that further research in larger patient populations is needed to identify risks from COVID-19 in various cancers and with different therapies.