Deadly Combo: COVID-19 and Cancer

A Nepali cancer patient waits on a bus near Kathmandu to go back to her village during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown, April 20, 2020. Image: Prakash Mathema/AFP
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A Nepali cancer patient waits on a bus near Kathmandu to go back to her village during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown, April 20, 2020. Image: Prakash Mathema/AFP

Cancer patients—and survivors—who develop COVID-19 face a much greater risk of death than the general population, according to a pair of studies published yesterday in the Lancet.

In one study, half of 928 current and former cancer patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized; 13% died within a month. Far more men (17%) died than women (9%)—possibly because many of the women had breast cancer, which tends to afflict women who are younger and with fewer health problems.

The other study, focused on England, revealed an even higher percentage of deaths—28% of 800 patients; age and other health problems such as high blood pressure upped the risk. That study also determined no increased risk of mortality from COVID-19 for cancer patients on chemotherapy or other anti-cancer treatments.

The studies, focused on people in the US, the UK, Spain, and Canada, have major implications for former and current cancer patients faced with decisions on whether to postpone or modify treatment.

“If they don’t have COVID-19, they want to do anything they can to avoid getting it,” says Jeremy Warner, a Vanderbilt University data scientist who led the larger study.

AP

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