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Here is a summary of some of the recent studies on COVID-19 and cancer that were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago.
Breakthrough of COVID-19 in cancer patients is often serious
A significant proportion of vaccinated cancer patients who have contracted the COVID-19 virus require hospitalization, according to data collected by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and reported at ASCO 2022.
Researchers studied 231 patients who developed superinfections while receiving cancer treatment or within a year of treatment. Patients received at least one dose of the vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson. Most breakouts occurred after more than six months. Among the patients with solid non-metastatic tumors and penetrating infections, approximately 20% were hospitalized. Hospitalization rates for leukemia patients with COVID-19 ranged from 32% to 56%.
“While the proportion of patients in the ASCO registry with a breakthrough who were hospitalized remained fairly constant throughout 2021 (about 40%), those with a breakthrough that occurred in the last month of 2021 and early 2022 had A lower hospitalization rate (about 20%), which is consistent with lower-risk cases of COVID-19 in patients with the Omicron variant,” the researchers said in their presentation summary. “The majority of SARS-CoV-2 infections that occur six months or more after vaccination indicate a decline in vaccine efficacy over time, which could be affected by additional doses,” they said.
Cancer patients are over-represented in the long COVID cohort
US researchers reported Saturday at ASCO 2022 that cancer patients represent a significant proportion of people who end up with bothersome and persistent symptoms after recovering from COVID-19, a condition known as COVID-19.
From a nationally representative sample of more than 4.3 million people diagnosed with COVID-19 between January 2020 and February 2022, they identified 1,700 adults with prolonged COVID-19 and found that 37.3% were cancer patients. The most common cancers were skin (21.9% of cancer patients), breast (17.7%), prostate (8.3%), lymphoma (8%) and leukemia (5.7%).
Among long-term COVID patients, those with cancer were older than those without cancer, more likely to have other medical conditions, and more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19. The researchers called for “further investigation to identify risk factors for prolonged exposure to MERS-CoV in cancer patients.”
Leukemia patients show strong T-cell response to COVID vaccines
New data suggests that patients with leukemias have a much weaker antibody response to COVID-19 vaccines than patients with solid tumors, but they may still be well protected from severe illness caused by the virus.
Researchers at Monash University in Australia studied immune responses after three doses of the COVID vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca in nearly 400 adults with active or recently treated cancers. Researchers reported Saturday at ASCO 2022 that only 3.2% of 256 patients with solid tumors lacked antibodies capable of neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 and preventing infection, compared with 30% of 137 patients with hematological malignancies. The cells, some of which can kill virus-infected cells, were similar regardless of the type of cancer. The T-cell responses may thus indicate immune protection “for those without an antibody response,” the researchers said.
The same team reported in a separate presentation Saturday that the data regarding the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for cancer patients is “reassuring.” Survey responses of nearly 500 adults and children showed that most experienced some after-effects, with injection site pain and fatigue being the most common. But severe reaction rates were low (range 0%-10%) and interruptions in cancer treatment were uncommon (0%-11%). “No significant change in quality of life was reported for dose 1 or 2, in children or adults,” the researchers said.