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COVID-19 dangerous for cancer patients

New research shows how dangerous the coronavirus is for current and former cancer patients. Those who developed COVID-19 were much more likely to die within a month than people without cancer who got it, two studies found.

They are the largest reports on people with both diseases in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain and Canada. In one study, half of 928 current and former cancer patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized and 13% died. That’s far more than the various rates that have been reported in the general population.

Results were published Thursday in the journal Lancet and will be discussed this weekend at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference being held online because of the pandemic.

A second study in Lancet from researchers in England of 800 patients with various types of cancer and COVID-19 found an even higher death rate — 28%. The risk rose with age and other health problems such as high blood pressure.

The studies have big implications: More than 1.6 million new cancers are diagnosed in the United States each year, several million Americans are in treatment now and about 20 million are cancer survivors.

Dr. Jeremy Warner, a Vanderbilt University data scientist who led the larger study, said the results show the wisdom of measures that many hospitals have taken to delay or modify care for many cancer patients, and the need for people treated in the past to be extra careful now.

“If they don’t have COVID-19, they want to do anything they can to avoid getting it,” he said.

“The pandemic is posing incredible demands on the cancer care system” and the new studies show good reason for concern, said Dr. Howard Burris. He is president of the cancer society and heads the Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We’re trying to minimize trips to the clinic” and telling older cancer patients and those with lung problems “to be extra vigilant, extra isolated, to stay at home, be careful with family members,” Burris said.

Nearly half of the patients in Warner’s study were receiving cancer treatment when diagnosed with COVID-19.

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