Conference Coverage

Antitumor treatment may increase risk of severe events in COVID-19 patients



Cancer patients who received antitumor treatment within 14 days of COVID-19 diagnosis had an increased risk of severe events, according to data from three hospitals in Wuhan.

Patients with patchy consolidation at hospital admission also had an increased risk of severe events, defined as ICU admission, mechanical ventilation, or death.

However, these findings are limited by the small number of patients studied and the retrospective nature of the analysis, according to researchers.

Li Zhang, MD, PhD, of Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, China, presented this research at the AACR virtual meeting I. Some of the data were previously published in Annals of Oncology.

The researchers studied 28 patients with cancer among 1,276 patients with COVID-19 treated at three hospitals in Wuhan. The most common cancer types were lung (n = 7), esophageal (n = 4), and breast (n = 3). Patients had other gastrointestinal, gynecologic, genitourinary, and head and neck cancers as well.

The patients’ median age was 65 years (range, 56-70 years), 60.9% were men, 35.7% had stage IV cancer, and 28.6% had hospital-acquired COVID-19. Antitumor treatments included chemotherapy (n = 22), surgery (n = 21), radiotherapy (n = 21), targeted therapy (n = 5), and immune checkpoint inhibitors (n = 2).

COVID-19 treatment

Most patients (n = 22) received oxygen as their only respiratory intervention, although 10 received mechanical ventilation.

For systemic therapy, patients received antibiotic treatment (n = 23), corticosteroids (n = 15), intravenous immunoglobulin (n = 10), and tocilizumab (n = 1).

Antiviral treatments included umifenovir (n = 14), lopinavir/ritonavir (n = 10), ganciclovir (n = 9), ribavirin (n = 1), or a combination of antiviral drugs (n = 9).

“No cancer patients were enrolled in clinical trials, so no one received hydroxychloroquine or remdesivir,” Dr. Zhang noted.


In all, 15 patients (53.6%) had severe events. The median time from COVID-19 diagnosis to severe events was 7 days (range, 5-15 days).

A total of eight patients (28.6%) died – three with lung cancer, two with prostate cancer, one with liver cancer, one with rectal cancer, and one with testicular cancer.

Causes of death were acute respiratory distress syndrome (n = 5), septic shock (n = 1), suspected pulmonary embolism (n = 1), and acute myocardial infarction (n = 1).

By April 4, 14 patients had been discharged from the hospital, and 6 were still hospitalized. The median duration of hospitalization was 18.4 days for discharged patients and 29.4 days for patients still in hospital.

Follow-up CT scans showed improvement in 13 patients, no changes in 5 patients, and deterioration in 6 patients.

Factors associated with severe events

In a multivariable analysis, receiving antitumor treatment within 14 days of COVID-19 diagnosis was associated with severe events (hazard ratio, 4.079; P = .037).

However, only seven patients received antitumor treatments within 14 days of COVID-19 diagnosis – three chemotherapy, two targeted therapy, one radiotherapy, and one immune checkpoint inhibitor. Five of these seven patients had severe events.

Another factor associated with severe events in multivariable analysis was patchy consolidation on CT scan at admission (HR, 5.438; P = .01). Age and gender were not significantly associated with severe events.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors

Dr. Zhang and colleagues also analyzed a second group of cancer patients and their family members to determine if patients on immune checkpoint inhibitors have an increased risk of COVID-19.

This group included 124 cancer patients treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors for at least 2 months. The patients had a median age of 59 years (range, 54-65 years), and 61.8% were men. Most patients (95.2%) had stage IV cancer, and the most common cancers were lung (54.0%), esophageal (18.6%), and head and neck (10.7%).

In this group, only one cancer patient developed COVID-19 (via nosocomial infection). In another case, a patient’s spouse developed COVID-19, but the patient did not.

Dr. Zhang said this “limited information did not suggest cancer patients treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors were more vulnerable to COVID infection.”

Dr. Zhang and colleagues reported no conflicts of interest. This research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and Huazhong University of Science and Technology COVID-19 Rapid Response Call China.

SOURCE: Zhang L et al. Ann Oncol. 2020 Mar 26. doi: 10.1016/j.annonc.2020.03.296.

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