Having certain cancers makes the coronavirus exponentially more lethal.
While cancer patients are generally more vulnerable to infections, new research finds that people with blood and lung cancers as well as cancer which has metastasized — meaning it has spread throughout the body — are almost three times as likely to die as a result of contracting COVID-19.
“Our results showed COVID-19 patients with cancer had higher risks in all severe outcomes,” reads the abstract of a study published Tuesday in the journal Cancer Discovery.
The authors — from the US, China and Singapore — compared the cases of 105 patients with cancer and COVID-19 to 536 COVID-19 patients who did not have cancer, but were in the same age range, at 14 hospitals in Wuhan, China.
They found that cancer patients had an almost threefold higher death rate from the novel virus than those who were cancer free.
Cancer type, age and treatment stage were also factors. Lung cancer patients, for example, are already suffering from reduced lung function, and are especially vulnerable. Also, those with blood cancers — including leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma — which compromise the immune system, are vulnerable.
Treatments including chemotherapy and surgery, while helping fight cancer, can leave patients at higher risk of succumbing to COVID-19, as they also suppress the immune system.
Experts had suspected cancer patients were more vulnerable, but the new study now confirms it. The research “reflects what we had heard previously — that cancer patients are more susceptible to the virus, and that the course of the infection is worse and the outcomes are worse,” writes American Cancer Society Deputy Chief Medical Officer J. Leonard Lichtenfeld in The Washington Post. (He was not involved in the study.)
In addition to posing an increased threat of death to cancer patients, the coronavirus has also delayed cancer-related surgeries for over 1,000 NYC patients. Those cancer patients who have managed to receive medical care have had to risk contracting the virus in the process.