Black and Hispanic patients with cancer were found to be more likely to contract the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) than their white counterparts, according to findings of a large study.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) CancerLinQ discovery database includes de-identified electronic medical records (EMR) from oncology practices across the United States. To analyze the data, researchers compared patients in the database who had received diagnoses of cancer and COVID-19 (965 patients) against a baseline of patients who had received diagnoses of cancer only, for a total population of 477,613.
They found that black patients were 1.69 times more likely and Hispanic patients were 5.25 times more likely to test positive for SARS-Cov2 (the virus causing COVID-19) than their white counterparts.
“Patients with cancer should not have to make the decision between receiving cancer treatment and avoiding the risk of contracting COVID-19. Health care providers should be aware of this increased risk in black and Hispanic patients with cancer so that steps can be taken to mitigate the risk of infection,” Sonali M. Smith, MD, an ASCO expert, said in a written statement.
The researchers also found that patients with blood cancers were 1.36 times more likely to receive a diagnosis of COVID-19 than patients who had solid tumors. According to the ASCO statement, clinicians should take heed of these findings, as individuals with hematologic malignancies tend to have compromised immune systems, making them susceptible to infections.
Fifty-two patients with COVID-19 (5.4%) from the CancerLinQ sample died, though the investigators do not know their cause of death. They did note, however, that the majority of these deaths were in patients 70 years of age or older.
“Patients with cancer are, unfortunately, faced with balancing cancer treatments with the risk of developing COVID-19,” said Robert S. Miller MD, FACP, FASCO, medical director for CancerLinQ, in the statement. “This research, while preliminary, will hopefully help patients and providers understand who’s most at risk for COVID-19 and plan cancer treatment accordingly.”
Miller emphasized the importance of studies like these that can lead to better interventions for populations that face increased risk.
“It is important to gather data about people with cancer during this pandemic, because it helps us to understand the risks to these different populations and potentially develop mitigation strategies,” he said in a video presentation of the data. “Finally, all patients with cancer need to take precautions that are known to be effective, such as wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and getting flu shots, but this is particularly important for patients who are a part of minority populations.”