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11-01-2021 | COVID-19 | News

COVID-19 rate ‘low’ in patients receiving anticancer therapy

Shreeya Nanda

medwireNews: Patients receiving antitumor treatments may have a higher risk for acquiring SARS-CoV-2 infection than the general population, but overall the incidence appears to be low, say Italian researchers.

Of 59,989 individuals who received at least one course of anticancer therapy at one of 118 medical oncology units across Italy between January 15 and May 4, 2020, 406 (0.68%) had a positive nasopharyngeal swab test for COVID-19.

By contrast, the infection rate in the general population in the same time period was 0.39%, which equated to a significant 1.42-fold increased risk for people with versus without cancer.

The incidence of COVID-19 in the cancer patient and general populations varied by geographic area, with respective rates of 0.13% and 0.08% in southern Italy and the islands, 0.32% and 0.22% in central Italy, and 0.96% and 0.68% in northern Italy.

“Rather than reflecting a higher biologic susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, this could depend on the different age distribution of the 2 groups, with patients with cancer being on average older than the general population, and on a higher likelihood of viral exposure for patients owing to multiple and continued hospital visits,” say Carlo Aschele, from Ospedale Sant'Andrea in La Spezia, and colleagues.

“The lower rates of infection among patients with cancer in areas with lower degrees of COVID-19 spread seems to be consistent with this hypothesis,” they add in a research letter to JAMA Oncology.

The median age of the patients with cancer who developed COVID-19 was 68 years, and just over half (53.9%) were men. The most common tumor types in this group were lung cancer (22.4%) and breast cancer (18.5%), and nearly two-thirds (62.1%) of the patients were receiving chemotherapy or chemoimmunotherapy. Most (83.4%) exhibited COVID-19 symptoms and 77.3% required hospitalization.

Aschele et al highlight that the infection rate observed in this study “is low compared with the benefits achievable with most oncologic treatments.”

And they point out that “the infection rate remained below 1% even in the area with the greatest COVID-19 spread, partly reflecting reorganization measures implemented in medical oncology units in Italy at the onset of this outbreak.”

The team concludes: “From a clinical point of view, the low probability of SARS CoV-2 infection among these patients (<1%) supports the continuation of most oncologic treatments in the adjuvant and metastatic setting.

“Based on the present data, delaying active antitumor treatment to avoid SARS-CoV-2 transmission should not be routinely recommended.”

medwireNews is an independent medical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Ltd. © 2021 Springer Healthcare Ltd, part of the Springer Nature Group

11 January 2021: The coronavirus pandemic is affecting all healthcare professionals across the globe. Medicine Matters’ focus, in this difficult time, is the dissemination of the latest data to support you in your research and clinical practice, based on the scientific literature. We will update the information we provide on the site, as the data are published. However, please refer to your own professional and governmental guidelines for the latest guidance in your own country.

JAMA Oncol 2020; doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.6778

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