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Past cancer patients also face higher risks from COVID-19

People who have beaten cancer unfortunately still face an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 compared to those with no history of the disease, a recent study found.

Although the danger for patients currently ill or hospitalized with cancer has already been clearly shown, this University of Pennsylvania study provided more information about the risk for cancer patients who are no longer undergoing treatment or who are in remission.

Scientists analyzed the medical records of more than 4,800 patients who had been tested for COVID-19 from the Penn Medicine BioBank, which links data throughout the university’s health system. About 20% of those patients had a current or past cancer diagnosis in their medical histories.

While people with active cancer were most likely to be hospitalized, admitted to an intensive care unit, or die from COVID-19, patients whose cancer treatment was in the past also had a significantly greater risk of these outcomes after testing positive for the virus.

The results also suggest that cancer itself and its long-term impacts on the body, along with the aftereffects of treatment, may play a role in worsening COVID-19 infections. For people who have ever undergone cancer treatment, these findings make it all the more important to strictly practice COVID-19 prevention protocols including social distancing, mask wearing, frequent handwashing and vaccinations, said Kara N. Maxwell, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s senior author.

“That message has been out there, but these latest findings show us it’s not only for patients hospitalized or on treatment for their cancer. All oncology patients need to take significant precautions during the pandemic to protect themselves,” Maxwell said.

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