KEY POINTS

  • Some cancer patients were infected with COVID-19
  • Study revealed that chemotherapy and immunotherapy did not pose risk to COVID-19 patients
  • Individual circumstances and risk factors must be considered in treating cancer patients

It is okay for cancer patients who have COVID-19 to continue with their chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments, a study revealed.

Imperial College London researchers say pushing through with the cancer treatments of patients suffering from COVID-19 does not pose a risk to their survival. Their study also suggests more research on the drug hydroxychloroquine, which researchers say appear to offer benefits to some COVID-19 patients, BBC News reported.

Their findings are a product of research involving 890 cancer patients with coronavirus infection in Spain, Germany, Italy and the U.K. One of the goals of their study was to help determine who was at higher risk from the infection.

cancer and coronavirus study cancer and coronavirus study Photo: Anna Shvets - Pexels

Researchers also wanted to find out why cancer patients with COVID-19 in the U.K. who participated in the study were at a higher risk of dying compared to those in three other countries. Dr. David Pinato, the lead author of the study and department of surgery and cancer faculty at Imperial College London, expressed concern by the grim figures and called for policymakers in the U.K. to "acknowledge the mortality rate."

The pandemic affected the access of patients to cancer treatments. In some cases, treatments were postponed or canceled altogether based on minuscule "solid evidence," Dr. Pinato revealed. "Now we have a better understanding of how to make this fair," the lead author of the study said, adding that cancer treatments like chemotherapy and immunotherapy did not appear to increase mortality risk from coronavirus infection. He said that depending on the individual circumstances and risk factors of a patient, in many cases it is safe to undergo cancer treatment during the pandemic.

In their study, one in three COVID-19 patients with cancer died between late February and early April. Male patients who were more than 65-years-old and those with existing medical conditions fared worse compared to other cancer patients with COVID-19. Female patients with breast cancer were observed to have a mortality rate of only 15% and seemed to be protected to an extent in all four countries.

Among the nearly 900 patients studied, men aged 68 years on the average comprised a little over 50% of all participants with 330 of them suffering from advanced cancer. Over 400 patients have underlying medical conditions, of which, 53% were undergoing therapy, and 45% were not receiving any kind of treatment. Around 80% of all participants were infected due to community transmission.

Researchers say their findings were useful in determining which cancer patients are most susceptible and must use all preventative measures to shield themselves from the virus. They also said further clinical trials into emerging coronavirus treatments, such as hydroxychloroquine, for cancer patients must be held sooner than later. The anti-malarial medication became controversial after two studies that suggest the drug may worsen mortality were retracted recently.