We knew fairly quickly after COVID-19 started sweeping through the world that people who are older and/or have underlying health conditions are at a higher risk for COVID-19 than the general population.
Now researchers have found that people with certain cancers have three times the risk of death as the general population.
A previous study on cancer patients found that they are at an increased risk, but with only 18 patients involved, it was relatively small. Now a larger study has been done that has found not only are cancer patients are at an increased risk for complications like needing a ventilator, but they also have an increased risk of death.
Specifically, patients with cancers in their blood or lungs and patients with metastatic cancer had the highest risk of death and complications.
“These findings suggest that patients with cancer are a much more vulnerable population in the current covid-19 outbreak,” the authors wrote.
The study was published in the American Association for Cancer Research’s peer-reviewed journal Cancer Discovery and discussed in length at the organization’s virtual annual meeting. The authors who collaborated on the study are from China, Singapore, and the United States.
The study gathered information on patients from 14 different hospitals in the Hubei province in China, which is where the pandemic first reared its ugly head. The researchers analyzed 105 cancer patients and 536 non-cancer patients who were of a similar age. All had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Researchers found that cancer patients who were diagnosed with COVID-19 had a death rate roughly three times higher than the general population. In addition, cancer patients were also more likely to have “severe events” because of the virus. These include things like needing ventilators and being admitted to the ICU.
Even patients who had completed treatment had an increased chance of severe COVID-19 complications compared to non-cancer patients. People in the early stages of the disease had similar risk as non-cancer patients.
Why are cancer patients more vulnerable in general, and why are some cancer patients more than others? The authors of the study hypothesize it’s due to multiple risk factors, like their age, the kind of cancer, the stage it was in, and the type of treatment they were undergoing.
Cancer on its own weakens a person’s immune system and leaves them more susceptible to infection. Add in treatments that also decimate the immune system, like chemo and surgery, and they’re left pretty defenseless. Cancer patients also tend to be older, which is a known risk factor for serious complications due to COVID-19.
Patients with lung cancer have impaired lung function while blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma are forms of cancer that directly attack the immune system.
“The findings in this study suggest that patients with cancer infected with SARS-COV-2 tend to have more severe outcomes when compared to patients without cancer. Patients with hematological cancer, lung cancer, and cancers in metastatic stages demonstrated higher rates of severe events compared to patients without cancer. In addition, patients who underwent cancer surgery showed higher death rates and higher chances of having critical symptoms,” the authors wrote.