Are patients with cancer at higher risk of COVID-19-related death? A systematic review and critical appraisal of the early evidence

Victoria Freeman, Suzanne Hughes, Chelsea Carle, Denise Campbell, Sam Egger, Harriet Hui, Sarsha Yap, Silvia Deandrea, Michael Caruana, Tonia C Onyeka, Maarten J IJzerman, Ophira Ginsburg, Freddie Bray, Richard Sullivan, Ajay Aggarwal, Stuart J Peacock, Kelvin K W Chan, Timothy P Hanna, Isabelle Soerjomataram, Dianne L O'ConnellJulia Steinberg, Karen Canfell

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BACKGROUND: Early reports suggested that COVID-19 patients with cancer were at higher risk of COVID-19-related death. We conducted a systematic review with risk of bias assessment and synthesis of the early evidence on the risk of COVID-19-related death for COVID-19 patients with and without cancer.

METHODS AND FINDINGS: We searched Medline/Embase/BioRxiv/MedRxiv/SSRN databases to 1 July 2020. We included cohort or case-control studies published in English that reported on the risk of dying after developing COVID-19 for people with a pre-existing diagnosis of any cancer, lung cancer, or haematological cancers. We assessed risk of bias using tools adapted from the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale. We used the generic inverse-variance random-effects method for meta-analysis. Pooled odds ratios (ORs) and hazard ratios (HRs) were calculated separately. Of 96 included studies, 54 had sufficient non-overlapping data to be included in meta-analyses (>500,000 people with COVID-19, >8,000 with cancer; 52 studies of any cancer, three of lung and six of haematological cancers). All studies had high risk of bias. Accounting for at least age consistently led to lower estimated ORs and HRs for COVID-19-related death in cancer patients (e.g. any cancer versus no cancer; six studies, unadjusted OR=3.30,95%CI:2.59-4.20, adjusted OR=1.37,95%CI:1.16-1.61). Adjusted effect estimates were not reported for people with lung or haematological cancers. Of 18 studies that adjusted for at least age, 17 reported positive associations between pre-existing cancer diagnosis and COVID-19-related death (e.g. any cancer versus no cancer; nine studies, adjusted OR=1.66,95%CI:1.33-2.08; five studies, adjusted HR=1.19,95%CI:1.02-1.38).

CONCLUSIONS: The initial evidence (published to 1 July 2020) on COVID-19-related death in people with cancer is characterised by multiple sources of bias and substantial overlap between data included in different studies. Pooled analyses of non-overlapping early data with adjustment for at least age indicated a significantly increased risk of COVID-19-related death for those with a pre-existing cancer diagnosis.

DATA AVAILABILITY: All the original data of this study were available upon reasonable request to the corresponding authors (KC or JS).

Original languageEnglish
Article number100340
Pages (from-to)100340
JournalJournal of Cancer Policy
Early online date6 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022
Externally publishedYes

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Copyright © 2022. Published by Elsevier Ltd.


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