Active Cancer Increases Death Risk in Patients With COVID-19

Neil Osterweil

May 29, 2020

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Patients with COVID-19 and progressing cancer had a fivefold increase in the risk of 30-day mortality, compared with COVID-19–positive cancer patients who were in remission or had no evidence of cancer, according to data from the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium (CCC19) registry.

Other independent risk factors for death in patients with COVID-19 and cancer were older age, male sex, former smoking, number of comorbidities, Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) performance status of 2 or greater, and treatment with hydroxychloroquine plus azithromycin.

In fact, patients who received hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin had a nearly threefold higher risk of death than did patients who had not received the combination. However, this finding was of "uncertain validity due to a high risk of residual confounding; for example, patients receiving this combination were more likely to have severe disease or more likely to be hospitalized," said Jeremy L. Warner, MD, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Dr. Warner presented these findings in an online press briefing. Additional findings from the CCC19 registry are set to be presented as part of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) virtual scientific program.

"Severe Impact" in Cancer Patients

"For people with cancer, the impact of COVID-19 is especially severe, whether they have been exposed to the virus or not. Patients with cancer are typically older adults, often with other underlying conditions, and their immune systems may be suppressed by the cancer, or due to chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatment," commented ASCO President Howard A. Burris III, MD, who moderated the press briefing but was not involved in the study of CCC19 registry data.

"ASCO members tell us that they have had to delay or modify treatment plans to reduce patients' risk of infection, and we're unclear what the impact of these changes will be. Delays in cancer screening and diagnosis are also a major concern," Dr. Burris continued.

"This does confirm reports that have come out from other centers, including other parts of the world, where they have found that people who have cancer and COVID-19 have a worse outcome," said Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who was not involved in the research.

Dr. Chan's group has developed a COVID-19 symptom study app with the aim of defining whether people living with cancer are at increased risk for infections, in addition to whether cancer is an independent risk factor for COVID-19 severity or mortality.

"Using data from our app, we were able to show that people who reported living with cancer did have a higher risk of developing COVID and were more likely to be hospitalized related to COVID," Dr. Chan said in an interview.

Study Details

The CCC19 registry collects information from 104 participating institutions in the United States and Canada, as well as anonymous data from individuals in the United States, Argentina, Canada, the European Union, and the United Kingdom.

The sample of 928 patients Dr. Warner presented was evenly balanced by sex. The median age was 66 years, and 30% of patients were aged 75 years or older.

In all, 39% of patients were on active anticancer therapy, and 43% had measurable disease. Breast cancer was the most common diagnosis, followed by prostate cancer, gastrointestinal cancers, lymphomas, and thoracic cancers.

Two-thirds of the patients (68%) had an ECOG performance status of 0 or 1, 8% had a performance status of 2, and 5% a status of 3 or 4. The remaining patients had unknown performance status.

Slightly more than half of patients (52%) were never smokers, 37% were former smokers, and 5% were current smokers. The remaining 6% of patients had unknown smoking status.

At a median follow-up of 21 days, 121 patients (13%) had died. All deaths occurred within 30 days of COVID-19 diagnosis. Among patients who died, 78 were male, 64 were former smokers, 70 were aged 75 years or older, 41 had active stable or responding cancer, 25 had progressing cancer, and 42 had an ECOG performance status of 2 or higher.

In all, 466 patients were hospitalized, and 106 in this group (23%) died. Among the 132 patients admitted to an ICU, 50 (38%) died, including 27 patients aged 75 years or older, and 15 with an ECOG performance status of 2 or greater. Of the 116 patients who required intubation, 50 (43%) died, including 26 who were 75 years or older, and 11 who had a performance status of 2 or greater.

It's early days yet, and a larger sample size with longer follow-up will be needed to get a more complete picture of how COVID-19 affects specific patient subsets over time, Dr. Warner said.

ASCO has established its own COVID-19 registry to collect both near-term and longitudinal data during the pandemic.

"We'll be able to learn about both how the pandemic has impacted delivery of cancer care, as well as the longer-term effects of COVID-19 on cancer patients and understand what care approaches are working best," said Richard L. Schilsky, MD, chief medical officer and executive vice president of ASCO, during the briefing.

The study of CCC19 registry data was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society. Dr. Warner disclosed stock/ownership in, consulting for IBM and Westat, and travel expenses from IBM. Dr. Burris, Dr. Schilsky, and Dr. Chan reported no disclosures relevant to the study.

SOURCE: Warner J L et al. ASCO 2020, Abstract LBA110.

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