MONDAY, Dec. 21, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Cancer patients have a much higher risk of COVID-19 than people without cancer, and that threat is especially high among those with blood cancers, newly diagnosed patients and Blacks, researchers say.
Their analysis of the electronic medical records of more than 73 million U.S. patients showed that the highest risk of COVID-19 among patients with 13 common cancers was in those with lung cancer, leukemia and lymphoma.
"We saw the highest level of risk linked to cancers of the blood, which change the way immune blood cells work," said study co-author Dr. Nathan Berger, professor at Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine in Cleveland.
"Cancer patients are more likely to get infections due to changes in their immune systems," he said in a university news release. "They also come into contact with many front-line health care workers, which could add to the burden on their already overtaxed immune systems."
Patients who were diagnosed with cancer in the last year had a higher COVID-19 risk than those with long-standing diagnoses, and Black cancer patients were more likely to be infected than white patients, according to the study published recently in the journal JAMA Oncology.
That racial difference was seen for all 13 types of cancer examined in the study, and was largest for breast, prostate, colon and lung cancer.
"This profound racial disparity in COVID-19 infection in cancer patients demonstrates that other factors, including access to health care, socioeconomic status and other socially adverse components, may have contributed negatively to the increased risk of COVID-19 susceptibility in African Americans with cancers," said study co-author Rong Xu, director of the Center of Artificial Intelligence in Drug Discovery at Case Western.
In an associated study, Xu and her colleagues found that people with substance use and mental disorders -- especially Blacks -- had a significantly increased risk for COVID-19.
"If we understand which patients are more at risk for COVID-19 infection, we can better monitor them and protect them from infection," Berger said.
"We can also better prioritize vaccinations and treatments for vulnerable populations," Xu added in the release.
The American Cancer Society has more on COVID-19 and cancer.
SOURCE: Case Western Reserve University, news release, Dec. 15, 2020