Many cancer patients are feeling extra worry, anxiety and fear while facing the news of the growing rates in positive COvid-19 tests and the rising death toll. And while there are many people facing grim outcomes, there are also thousands of people recovering from this virus as well. For cancer patients, the fear of contracting the coronavirus is heightened, and with fair reason.
From what experts know now, cancer patients with the disease are an extremely susceptible group. The exact percent of raised vulnerability is not yet known, as the studies on coronavirus have only just begun. Researchers in China have conducted small studies using data collected from twenty-eight patients who were infected with COvid-19 being treated around the area of Wuhan, China from January 13th to February 26th, 2020 (China News/CDC).
Researchers involved in the China research studies state, “There is an urgent need to answer the following questions, including whether COVID-19-infected cancer patients will have distinct clinical courses and worse outcomes, such as death from the infection or severe pneumonia, and whether cancer patients should receive anti-tumor treatments as usual in epidemic areas” (China News/CDC).
These researchers examined the risk factors that are associated with the events that lead up to a patient needing to be admitted into the intensive care unit or ICU in the hospital or put on mechanical ventilation. Deaths were also recorded.
Here are details of the small study done in China during the months of COvid-19 outbreak.
- The patient population consisted of mostly men (60.7%) who were a median age of 65 years old. Lung cancer was the most frequently seen diagnosis in 25% of patients, followed by esophageal (14.3%) and breast (10.7%) cancer, and 35.7% of patients had stage 4 disease. In addition, 39.2% of patients had at least one or more coexisting chronic diseases.
- The researchers learned that eight patients (28.6%) developed COVID-19 while undergoing therapy in the hospital and 20 (71.4%) contracted the virus from their communities; most (67.9%) were from Hankou, the starting point of the outbreak. Within two weeks of a COVID-19 diagnosis, 21.4% of patients received at least one type of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy (10.7%), targeted therapy (7.1%), radiotherapy (3.6%) or immunotherapy (3.6%), and one patient received combination chemotherapy and immunotherapy (China News/CDC).
Of the patients who were admitted, eighty percent of them had high fever, dry cough, abnormally low levels of lymphocytes in the blood and high levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. C-reactive protein is what is used to measure inflammation in the body, via blood test. Over ninety percent of patients showed hypoproteinemia, which is a condition where there is an abnormally low amount of protein in the blood. Thee quarters of those patients also had trouble breathing and more than half showed signs of anemia.
Researchers also discovered that patients with cancer showed deteriorating conditions and poor outcomes from COvid-19. More than half (53.6%) developed severe events, 21.4% were put into the ICU, 35.7% had life-threatening complications and 28.6% of patients died (China News/CDC).
After these findings were published, the researchers added, “Patients with cancer are particularly susceptible to respiratory pathogens and severe pneumonia because they are at an immunosuppressive state due to malignancy and anti-tumor therapy.” Then added. “It was found that within 14 days, anti-tumor therapies were significantly associated with occurrence of severe clinical events in COVID-19 infection.”
Researchers in charge of this study also noted that the increased rate of death could be attributed to delayed hospital admission and a shortage of medical resources at the start of the outbreak.
The current recommendations for cancer patients in regard to COvid-19 are:
- Vigorous screening for COvid-19 infection, on all levels
- Wear masks and appropriate PPE
- Avoiding treatments that cause immunosuppression or having dosages decreased in case of COvid-19 infection.
If you are a cancer patient and think you may have been exposed to the coronavirus, call your doctor and let them know. Your doctor can then advise you on your next move of action. In this state of world, some doctors are not accepting physical appointments and only handling phone calls. Be sure to call and verify your location will be open before traveling anywhere. If you are having uncontrolled anxiety and fear, let your doctor know about that, too.