An Indian-origin team of researchers in the US has claimed that people with cancer who develop coronavirus (COVID-19) are much more likely to die from the disease than those without cancer.
The mortality rate for COVID-19 in the US is 5.8 per cent, according to the World Health Organisation.
"Our findings emphasise the need to prevent cancer patients from contracting COVID-19 and - if they do - to identify and closely monitor these individuals for dangerous symptoms," said study co-lead author Vikas Mehta from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the US.
For the study, published in the journal Cancer Discovery, the research team involved 218 cancer patients who tested positive for COVID-19 from March 18 to April 8 at Montefiore Medical Centre in New York City.
A total of 61 cancer patients died from COVID-19, a dramatically high case-fatality rate of 28 per cent.
According to the researchers, a key element is that mortality appears to be more closely related to frailty, age, and co-morbidities than to active therapy for cancer.
"Our data suggest that we should not stop lifesaving cancer therapies, but rather develop strategies to minimize potential COVID-19 exposures and re-evaluate therapies for our most vulnerable cancer populations," explained co-senior author Amit Verma.
As a group, COVID-19 patients with hematologic (blood) cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, had the highest mortality rate: 37 per cent (20 of 54 patients), the study said.
For patients with solid malignancies, the mortality rate was 25 per cent (41 of 164).
Striking differences were observed among specific solid cancers: the mortality rate for patients with lung cancer was 55 per cent and colorectal cancer was 38 per cent, compared with mortality rates of 14 per cent for breast cancer and 20 per cent for prostate cancer.
Certain underlying conditions--older age, hypertension, heart disease, and chronic lung disease--were significantly associated with increased mortality among cancer patients with COVID-19, the researchers said.
A detailed analysis of patients with cancer who died from COVID-19 shows that more than half of these individuals--37 of 61--had been in places with a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19, such as nursing homes, hospitals or emergency departments within the 30 days before being diagnosed with COVID-19.
According to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, the US currently accounts for the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the world at 1,103,781 and 65,068, respectively.