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Cancer patients, those on chemotherapy have worse COVID-19 prognosis

Cancer patients, those on chemotherapy have worse COVID-19 prognosis
Researchers say that cancer patients who were recently treated with chemotherapy and get COVID-19 have a significantly higher risk for death than those without cancer. Photo by klbz/Pixabay

Oct. 28 (UPI) -- People with cancer who contract COVID-19 are nearly five times more likely to die from the infection than those without cancer, a study published Thursday by JAMA Oncology found.

In addition, cancer patients who have received treatment for the disease within the past three months have a 20% risk for hospitalization and nearly 75% higher risk for death following coronavirus infection than people without cancer, the data showed.

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Recent chemotherapy increases risk for death from COVID-19 by 84%, likely due to the weakened immunity brought on by radiation treatment or chemotherapy for cancer, according to the researchers.

Conversely, cancer patients who have not undergone treatment for the disease within the past three months have a nearly 40% lower risk for needing mechanical ventilation for breathing support following COVID-19 infection than those without cancer, they said.

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Patients who have not been treated for cancer within three months of testing positive for COVID-19 also have a 7% lower risk for death compared with patients who do not have cancer, though it is unclear why.

"We found that patients with cancer who were being treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy within three months of COVID-19 diagnosis had an increased risk of hospitalization, intensive care unit stay and death," study co-author Dr. Sharon Giordano told UPI in an email.

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"In contrast, patients with cancer who were not recently treated did not have worse outcomes than people without cancer," said Giordano, chair of Health Services Research at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

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There are about 16 million cancer survivors in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.

People with cancer as well as various chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease are at increased risk for serious illness from COVID-19 due to the effects of these underlying health problems are on their immune systems, research suggests.

As a result, they have been given priority for COVID-19 vaccination, and booster shots have been recommended to increase protection against infection.

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For this study, the researchers analyzed data on nearly 510,000 adults who tested positive for the virus in 2020, more than 14,000 of whom had cancer.

Of the cancer patients in the study population, about 30% had received treatment for the disease within three months of being diagnosed with COVID-19, while the rest had not.

Nearly 8% of cancer patients who had received treatment within three months of their coronavirus infection died, as did 5% of cancer patients who had not received treatment within that period, the data showed.

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However, less than 2% of people in the study who did not have cancer died from the virus.

"We were not able to evaluate the causes of the worse outcomes in cancer patients in this study [though] it is possible that the immune suppression due to treatment resulted in the increased risk of poor outcomes," Giordano told UPI.

"Cancer patients can reduce their risk for severe COVID-19 through vaccination," she said.

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