THURSDAY, May 20, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Early in the pandemic, some were concerned that breast cancer treatments that weaken the immune system might increase a person's risk of catching or dying from COVID-19.
Now, new research shows that women who have these treatments are no more likely to become sick from the novel coronavirus or to die from it than women being treated with other cancer treatments that do not weaken immune defenses.
The study, led by researchers at NYU Langone Health and its Perlmutter Cancer Center, included 3,000 women being treated for breast cancer in New York City from February to May 2020 during the height of the pandemic.
Of those women, 64 (2%) contracted COVID-19. Ten of those women died from COVID-19, which researchers characterized as a number expected for this age group, regardless of their cancer.
"Our results show that patients can safely receive breast cancer therapy, including chemotherapy, during the pandemic," lead investigator Dr. Douglas Marks, an oncologist at Perlmutter Cancer Center, said in an NYU news release.
The researchers reviewed 2020 medical records for breast cancer patients receiving either chemotherapy or other drug therapies at Perlmutter Cancer Center in New York City and Long Island. They looked for COVID-19 testing results, the extent of cancer, the presence of other illnesses, and survival.
In addition to finding that patients who received chemotherapy were not at greater risk of COVID-19 infection or death than those who received other treatments, the study found that elderly and overweight patients were at increased risk from dying of COVID-19, which was consistent with previous research.
Marks said it remains unclear whether these findings will hold true with newly emerging variants of the coronavirus.
Study senior investigator and cancer center medical oncologist Dr. Sylvia Adams, a professor in the department of medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, cautioned that the coronavirus pandemic is rapidly evolving and that enhanced infection precautions should remain in place at cancer centers.
"As long as patients continue to take reasonable precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing, they should feel confident in continuing the treatment plan that they have chosen with their physicians," Adams said in the release.
She noted that breast cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States and kills approximately 45,000 every year.
The findings will be presented online June 4 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.
SOURCE: NYU Langone Health, news release, May 19, 2021