Researchers explore inter-relationship between cancer and Covid-19

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on October 07, 2020

Say cancer patients are more vulnerable to the severe symptoms of the virus

The novel coronavirus has disrupted the treatment of cancer patients, while they are more vulnerable to the severe symptoms of the virus, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Cell.

Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute formulated a comprehensive report on the interrelationship between the two diseases.

Ziad Bakouny, MD, MSc, of Dana-Farber, the co-lead author of the study with Jessica Hawley, MD, of Columbia University Medical Center, said: “Covid-19 has been responsible for killing more than one million people worldwide. Among those most at risk of developing severe forms of the illness are patients with cancer,"

Bakouny added: “Research into why patients with cancer are at heightened risk is moving very quickly. In this paper, we look at the state of the science in this area and others related to these two illnesses.”

The researchers pointed out four key areas that establish a relationship between cancer and coronavirus. This includes the interconnected biology of cancer and Covid-19; changes in patient care prompted by the pandemic; effects on cancer research; and insights from cancer research applicable to the treatment of Covid-19.

Cancer and Covid

Cancer patients can experience severe coronavirus symptoms due to their weakened immune systems.

According to the researchers, one of the most lethal consequences of this is the overactivation of immune responses that further spur the “cytokine storm”. This can damage the lungs and other tissues.

Researchers noted that cancer patients, who were treated with immune-stimulating therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies and bi-specific T-cell engagers (BiTEs), are at risk for complications. This happens if the immune response produced by these therapies results in an attack on normal, healthy tissue.

The authors mentioned that patients treated with CAR T-cell therapies and BiTEs, in particular, are likely to have the side effect called cytokine release syndrome.

Delay in diagnosis

A British study cited in Medical Xpress found that routine screening has declined by 85-90 per cent amidst Covid-19 pandemic. This has caused delays in cancer diagnosis.

Due to delays in diagnosis, deaths five years from now maybe 4-17 per cent higher, depending on tumor type.

Covid-19 and cancer research

The pandemic has also halted the cancer research programs in many countries. This includes the decrease in donations to such programs, limiting the capacity in the research labs to contain the spread of the virus, among others.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we've accumulated a substantial amount of evidence about the dynamic between cancer and Covid-19,” Bakouny added.

Published on October 07, 2020

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