More than 16,000 cancer deaths from COVID-19 complications in US in 2020, new study says

Newswise — ATLANTA, September 29, 2022 — From March to December 2020, more than 16,000 cancer deaths in the United States were due to complications from COVID-19, according to a new study led by researchers at the American Cancer Society (ACS). Also, higher rates of deaths from blood or prostate cancer were due to COVID-19 complications compared to cancer deaths without COVID-19 complications. The research is published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Oncology.

“We know that cancer patients are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because of a weakened immune system,” says Dr. Xuesong Han, scientific director, health research at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the study. “Patients with hematologic neoplasms or blood cancers and prostate cancers may be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 complications and death. It is important to further study these patient populations to develop care strategies that reduce the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus and optimize disease management for patients with comorbid COVID-19 infection.”

Researchers identified and analyzed 16,561 deaths from cancer and COVID-19 for the study from March 2020 to December 2020 using the multiple cause-of-death database of death certificate information for US residents. They found that a higher rate of cancer-COVID-19 complicated deaths compared to cancer deaths unrelated to COVID-19 occurred in individuals with hematologic neoplasms (23.3% for cancer-COVID-19 deaths vs. 9 .6% for non-COVID-19 cancer deaths) and prostate cancer (12.4% for cancer-COVID-19 deaths vs. 5.5% for non-COVID-19 cancer deaths). Compared to cancer deaths unrelated to COVID-19, complicated cancer-COVID-19 deaths were more common in major metropolitan areas, among men, people aged 85 years or older, and racial/ethnic minorities. Most cancer deaths unrelated to COVID-19 occurred at home (53.2%) or in hospices (10.8%); In contrast, a higher rate of cancer-COVID-19 complicated deaths occurred in inpatient (61.5%) or nursing home/long-term care settings (18.7%).

“The high proportion of cancer-COVID-19 complicated deaths in medical facilities suggests that the economic burden should be evaluated by future studies,” Han said. “Future studies should also monitor the mortality burden of COVID-19 variants, such as Delta and Omicron, in patients with cancer, especially after vaccines became widely available.”

Other authors of ACS studies are: Jingxuan Zhao, Dr. Ahmedin Jemal and Dr Robin Yabroff.

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