Cancer Patients amidst a Pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic has had its toll on every facet of life around the globe. Yet, no doubt the pressure has been double for people who are already fighting other chronic or serious diseases. The 4th of February marks the World Cancer Day, aiming to raise awareness about the notorious disease; as such, this article is dedicated to shed light on some facts related to cancer patients and COVID-19.

While anyone who gets exposed to a new virus is at risk of becoming infected, patients with active cancer are more susceptible to infectious agents in general, because of the immunocompromising nature of cancer treatments. Thus, cancer patients are expected to be at a higher risk of developing severe illness if they catch COVID-19. However, it turns out that this point is quite tricky.

According to the American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts and Figures 2021 Report (download), factors linked with risk of developing severe cases and deaths in cancer patients mirror those in the general population. These factors include old age, male sex, smoking, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Since cancer is more common in older people who often suffer from other health conditions, it was hard to tell what exactly causes the development of severe COVID-19 symptoms. On the other hand, a study published in May 2020 that took these factors into account found that having cancer was still associated with an increased risk of dying to COVID-19 compared to patients without cancer.

Similarly, while some early studies found that patients with specific types of cancers—lung and hematological cancers—are at a higher risk for severe complications compared to non-cancer patients, later larger studies have disputed these findings.

The simple conclusion to these contradictions is that more comprehensive and long-term studies are still needed. One such study is currently conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the USA; it studies 2,000 cancer patients who have also been infected with COVID-19, and will be monitored for two years.

Other than that, a major challenge that cancer patients have faced due to the pandemic is the reduced access to health care. First, hospitals and medical staff around the world have been overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases. Second, the fear of infection has forced many cancer patients to avoid healthcare facilities and postpone surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy sessions. These two factors, besides the pressures on their mental health and well-being, have had an overall negative impact on them.

Last but not least, should cancer patients receive the COVID-19 vaccines; are they safe for them? According to different resources, most experts recommend that cancer patients should get the vaccine once available to them. However, a question of effectiveness, rather than safety, is still unanswered. Again, the immunocompromising nature of cancer treatments might make the vaccine less effective. Although the recommended type of vaccine would differ from one cancer patient to another, generally speaking, traditional vaccines that contain an inactivated or a weakened version of the virus are not recommended for them.


Banner photo copyright: © Rido
Creator: Ridofranz | Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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