The UK Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring Project has been collecting and analysing data from cancer patients with COVID-19 for seven weeks. Thanks to data from over 1,200 patients, we’re starting to gain new insight. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.
Younger patients do better
Younger patients with cancer and COVID-19 are more likely to recover and be discharged from hospital than older ones. This trend started emerging early on and is in line with what we already know about COVID-19.
While age can play a role in the severity of the infection, older people are also more likely to have other health conditions, which can make the infection harder to overcome. As we reported in the third week of the project, only a quarter of people didn’t have other health conditions. That was based on information from around 600 cancer patients with COVID-19 taking part in the project at the time. Hypertension was seen in a third of participants, followed by diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
COVID-19 affects more patients with metastatic cancer
Almost half of cancer patients with COVID-19 had metastatic cancer, meaning the cancer had spread from its original site to other parts of the body and often places a bigger health burden on patients. Patients with metastatic disease may experience symptoms both of the disease and side effects of medication. So it’s not surprising if they are more susceptible to COVID-19.
Almost 40% of cancer patients with COVID-19 had primary cancer. For a third of these patients, the cancer had started to spread to surrounding tissues, known as locally advanced disease. But the coronavirus infection doesn’t seem to affect people in clinical remission as much. Only 4.4% of participants were on surveillance for cancer and not currently taking cancer treatment.
More than half of cancer patients have mild infection
COVID-19 can range in severity – from asymptomatic infection, when no signs of the illness are present, all the way to severe and critical disease. More than half of cancer patients with COVID-19 had a mild illness. Mild illness can be successfully treated at home. It usually leads to flu-like symptoms, such as mild fever, tiredness, muscle aches, and sometimes cough. However, almost a quarter of cancer patients in the study developed severe illness and a fifth – critical COVID-19, both requiring hospital treatment.
Two thirds of cancer patients survive COVID-19
Project data so far suggests that two thirds of cancer patients survive COVID-19, with the coronavirus leading to death in 30.5% of cancer patients taking part in this study. Now, we need to understand the differences between people who recover from COVID-19 and those who unfortunately do not.
Various factors, such as other health conditions, type and location of cancer and different cancer treatments may all affect the severity and outcome of COVID-19. Only by studying as many infections as possible can we understand these complex relationships and learn who may be more at risk of COVID-19 and what we can do to lower their chances of developing a serious illness.
However, our study may represent a group of patients with more severe COVID-19 infection. It includes patients who have been tested for COVID-19 in line with current policies. Until recently, testing was focussed on patients with symptoms attending hospital.
What we might uncover in future
Soon we will be able to share data about the effect of recent chemotherapy on COVID-19 in cancer patients. We hope that with more reporting centres joining the project, and more people taking part, we will help the cancer community to know how best to treat as many patients as possible.
Please note this data has not been adjusted for co-variates and should be interpreted with caution.