Cancer Patients and COVID-19
The pandemic isn’t over, but we’re still learning more about how COVID-19 affected some of the most vulnerable populations. At the pandemic’s onset, cancer patients were considered one of many high-risk patients in the healthcare system. A new study shows just how dangerous the virus has been.
While the US has seen cases drop over the past several months, the pandemic is still ranging in many parts of the world. Governmental favors and misinformation have led to a surge in cases in much of South America, India, Pakistan, and many developing countries that lack access to care, testing, and vaccines. In many ways, these countries find themselves where the US and Europe were six to eight months ago. Many of these very high-risk countries are facing renewed called for lockdowns or restrictions, overcrowded hospitals, and the other challenges that made the spring of 2021 a nightmare in other parts of the world.
That’s always why the myriad studies focused on COVID-19 are still so relevant. This isn’t information that is only useful for the next pandemic; we’re still using data from the past fifteen months to save lives right now.
One such study looked at how COVID-19 affected cancer patients in the US. This study, with access to over 6.2 million patients and over 2 million positive COVID cases, researchers were able to examine more than 63,000 cancer patients who contracted the virus. This data set was much more robust than previous cohort studies and offers a valuable insight into identifying which cancer patients are at particularly high risk.
Researchers found that cancer patients who fared the worst shared a few common traits. White, elderly patients with a number of comorbidities tend to face the direst outcomes. Additional traits included the tendency to have multiple tumor sites, patients with hemoglobin malignancies, and where they lived; residents in the South or the Western US with these traits tended to fare worse than Americans in other parts of the country.
The more than 63,000 patients included a cross-section of diagnoses as well, represented by skin cancer, breast cancer, hematologic, and GI-related cancers. It’s worth noting that cancer patients as a whole tended to face worse outcomes than the general public, including those who otherwise shared comorbidities.
Researchers aren’t done. With experts around the country now delving into the data, there’s more to learn and more to discover from this wealth of information. This is the sort of study that has an immediate, real-world impact on the lives of tens of thousands of cancer patients around the globe.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do right now is to encourage vaccination efforts in the US and abroad, and support a more equitable distribution of vaccines to target outbreak hot spots wherever they might be. By supporting countries like Brazil and Argentina in their time of need, we both save lives and shorten the span that this pandemic affects us all.