Research about cancer patients with COVID-19

Demographic factors such as age, gender and race, as well as clinical information about disease and treatment types, are lending insights into COVID-19 severity among patients with cancer, according to a report co-authored by Loma Linda University Cancer Center physicians. The findings, drawn from the largest registry for cancer patients with COVID-19, were published last week in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Oncology.

Factors associated with the development of more severe COVID-19 infection among cancer patients included: older age, male sex, non-Hispanic Black race, Hispanic ethnicity, obesity, comorbidities, recent cytotoxic chemotherapy, and hematologic malignancy. The report’s analysis also revealed that patients more recently diagnosed with COVID-19 had better outcomes than people who contracted the virus earlier in the pandemic. The finding is a hopeful indication that as physicians are learning more about the virus, they are also getting better at treating cancer patients with the infection, researchers said.

The report is the third peer-reviewed publication release by the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium (CCC19), one of the first and largest registry efforts focused on gathering data on patients with COVID-19 and cancer. The Cancer Center joins over 120 other cancer centers and organizations from the United States, the European Union, Canada, and Mexico in collecting and analyzing data on adult patients (18 and older) who have a current or past diagnosis of both cancer and COVID-19 in order to better understand strategies to mitigate risk factors and outcomes for this particularly vulnerable patient group.

Researchers involved in this CCC19 publication analyzed nearly 5,000 patients with active or past cancer and COVID-19 diagnosis recorded between March and November 2020. The Cancer Center contributed 97 patient cases for the paper, reporting information such as demographics, cancer status, anti-cancer therapy type and timing, COVID-19 therapies, and course of illness.

“When the pandemic hit us, we were completely in the blind with respect to understanding the course and trajectory of the disease, though we knew for sure that our cancer patients were very vulnerable,” said Gayathri Nagaraj, MD, an oncologist at the Cancer Center who contributed to the study. “This is something we had to do for our patients and to better understand how to walk this fine line of managing cancer during COVID-19 pandemic.”

Nagaraj said she finds inspiration and encouragement in the rapid growth of membership and collaborative spirit she has seen come from the CCC19 effort and its contributors. Spawning from a series of twitter posts in March 2020 that gained some traction among other oncologists, the CCC19 has since mobilized to capture widely needed data regarding outcomes of COVID-19 in patients with cancer.

“It is one of those scenarios where you learn the power of collective wisdom. CCC19 was able to bring together all these highly motivated and brilliant clinicians and researchers who were eager to contribute and learn during a time of crisis,” she said. “To bring hundreds of researchers and institutions together in such short time is not an easy task, and it has truly been a one-of-a-kind experience being part of the consortium.”

Having contributed 125 total cases to the CCC19 to date, Loma Linda University Health will persist in its efforts to better understand how COVID-19 affects people living with cancer.

In meantime, you can also contribute by engaging with CCC19’s social media posts and creating discussion on how COVID-19 has impacted you as a cancer patient or survivor. If you or someone you know is living with cancer and considering getting the COVID-19 vaccine, see Nagaraj’s recommendations in this article.