Inactive cancer patients at increased risk of Covid-19, study finds

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on January 25, 2021

According to a new study, inactive cancer patients who are not undergoing any treatment may also have to face severe consequences of Covid-19 infection.

The study, published in the journal 'JNCI Cancer Spectrum', recommended strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols for all patients, not just for those who were recently diagnosed with cancer.

Earlier studies have established that Covid-19 infection poses an increased risk of severity and even death for patients hospitalized due to cancer. However, less is known about patients in the general population.

"Patients who have cancer need to be careful not to become exposed during this time," said senior author Kara N. Maxwell, MD, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology and Genetics in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Abramson Cancer Center and the Basser Center for BRCA.

He added, “That message has been out there, but these latest findings show us it's not only for patients hospitalized or on treatment for their cancer. All oncology patients need to take significant precautions during the pandemic to protect themselves.”

For the study, the researchers examined the records of over 4,800 Covid-19 positive patients from the Penn Medicine BioBank, a centralized bank of samples. They also linked data from the health system's electronic health records, to investigate the association between cancer status and Covid-19 outcomes.

Of the 328 positive cases through June 2020, 67 (20.7 per cent) had a cancer diagnosis in their medical history (80.6 per cent with solid tumor malignancy and 73.1 per cent with inactive cancer).

Patients with Covid-19 -- including both those with active cancer (18 per cent) and inactive cancer (49 per cent) -- had higher rates of hospitalizations compared to non-cancer patients (55.2 per cent vs. 29 per cent), intensive care unit admissions (25.7 per cent vs. 11.7 per cent), and 30-day mortality (13.4 per cent vs. 1.6 per cent).

Notably, worse results were more strongly linked to those with active cancer. Patients in remission also faced an overall increased risk of more severe disease compared to Covid-19 patients without cancer.

Researchers wrote in their study: "Our finding that cancer patients with Covid-19 were more likely than non-cancer patients to experience hospitalization and death even after adjusting for patient-level factors supports the hypothesis that cancer is an independent risk factor for poor Covid-19 outcomes.”

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Published on January 25, 2021
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