Cancer Immunotherapy Tied to Severe COVID-19 Outcomes
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Cancer patients receiving immunotherapy were at increased risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19, according to retrospective findings from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

As of 10 April 2020, New York State had 180,458 cases of SARS-CoV-2 and 9,385 reported deaths. Patients with cancer comprised 8.4% of deceased individuals. Population-based studies from China and Italy suggested a higher COVID-19 death rate in patients with cancer, although there is a knowledge gap as to which aspects of cancer and its treatment confer risk of severe COVID-19.

This information is critical to balance the competing safety considerations of reducing SARS-CoV-2 exposure and cancer treatment continuation. From 10 March to 7 April 2020, 423 cases of symptomatic COVID-19 were diagnosed at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (from a total of 2,035 patients with cancer tested). Of these, 40% were hospitalized for COVID-19, 20% developed severe respiratory illness (including 9% who required mechanical ventilation) and 12% died within 30 days.

Age older than 65 years and treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) were predictors for hospitalization and severe disease, whereas receipt of chemotherapy and major surgery were not. Overall, COVID-19 in patients with cancer is marked by substantial rates of hospitalization and severe outcomes. The association observed between ICI and COVID-19 outcomes in this study will need further interrogation in tumor-specific cohorts.