Posts Tagged ‘#COVID19andcancer’

National Cancer Institute Director Neil Sharpless says mortality from delays in cancer screenings due to COVID19 pandemic could result in tens of thousands of extra deaths in next decade

Reporter: Stephen J Williams, PhD

UPDATED: 10/11/2021

Source: https://cancerletter.com/articles/20200619_1/

NCI Director’s Report

Sharpless: COVID-19 expected to increase mortality by at least 10,000 deaths from breast and colorectal cancers over 10 years

By Matthew Bin Han Ong

This story is part of The Cancer Letter’s ongoing coverage of COVID-19’s impact on oncology. A full list of our coverage, as well as the latest meeting cancellations, is available here.

The COVID-19 pandemic will likely cause at least 10,000 excess deaths from breast cancer and colorectal cancer over the next 10 years in the United States.

Scenarios run by NCI and affiliated modeling groups predict that delays in screening for and diagnosis of breast and colorectal cancers will lead to a 1% increase in deaths through 2030. This translates into 10,000 additional deaths, on top of the expected one million deaths resulting from these two cancers.

“For both these cancer types, we believe the pandemic will influence cancer deaths for at least a decade,” NCI Director Ned Sharpless said in a virtual joint meeting of the Board of Scientific Advisors and the National Cancer Advisory Board June 15. “I find this worrisome as cancer mortality is common. Even a 1% increase every decade is a lot of cancer suffering.

“And this analysis, frankly, is pretty conservative. We do not consider cancers other than those of breast and colon, but there is every reason to believe the pandemic will affect other types of cancer, too. We did not account for the additional non-lethal morbidity from upstaging, but this could also be significant and burdensome.”

An editorial by Sharpless on this subject appears in the journal Science.

The early analyses, conducted by the institute’s Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network, focused on breast and colorectal cancers, because these are common, with relatively high screening rates.

CISNET modelers created four scenarios to assess long-term increases in cancer mortality rates for these two diseases:

  1. The pandemic has no effect on cancer mortality
  1. Delayed screening—with 75% reduction in mammography and, colorectal screening and adenoma surveillance for six months
  1. Delayed diagnosis—with one-third of people delaying follow-up after a positive screening or diagnostic mammogram, positive FIT or clinical symptoms for six months during a six-month period
  1. Combination of scenarios two and three

Treatment scenarios after diagnosis were not included in the model. These would be: delays in treatment, cancellation of treatment, or modified treatment.

“What we did is show the impact of the number of excess deaths per year for 10 years for each year starting in 2020 for scenario four versus scenario one,” Eric “Rocky” Feuer, chief of the NCI’s Statistical Research and Applications Branch in the Surveillance Research Program, said to The Cancer Letter.

Feuer is the overall project scientist for CISNET, a collaborative group of investigators who use simulation modeling to guide public health research and priorities.

“The results for breast cancer were somewhat larger than for colorectal,” Feuer said. “And that’s because breast cancer has a longer preclinical natural history relative to colorectal cancer.”

Modelers in oncology are creating a global modeling consortium, COVID-19 and Cancer Taskforce, to “support decision-making in cancer control both during and after the crisis.” The consortium is supported by the Union for International Cancer Control, The International Agency for Research on Cancer, The International Cancer Screening Network, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, and Cancer Council NSW, Australia.

A spike in cancer mortality rates threatens to reverse or slow down—at least in the medium term—the steady trend of reduction of cancer deaths. On Jan. 8, the American Cancer Society published its annual estimates of new cancer cases and deaths, declaring that the latest data—from 2016 to 2017—show the “largest ever single-year drop in overall cancer mortality of 2.2%.” Experts say that innovation in lung cancer treatment and the success of smoking cessation programs are driving the sharp decrease (The Cancer LetterFeb. 7, 2020).

The pandemic is expected to have broader impact, including increases in mortality rates for other cancer types. Also, variations in severity of COVID-19 in different regions in the U.S. will influence mortality metrics.

“There’s some other cancers that might have delays in screening—for example cervical, prostate, and lung cancer, although lung cancer screening rates are still quite low and prostate cancer screening should only be conducted on those who determine that the benefits outweigh the harms,” Feuer said. “So, those are the major screening cancers, but impacts of delays in treatment, canceling treatment or alternative treatments—could impact a larger range of cancer sites.

“This model assumes a moderate disruption which resolves after six months, and doesn’t consider non-lethal morbidities associated with the delay. One thing I think probably is occurring is regional variation in these impacts,” Feuer said. “If you’re living in New York City where things were ground zero for some of the worst impact early on, probably delays were larger than other areas of the country. But now, as we’re seeing upticks in other areas of the country, there may be in impact in these areas as well”

How can health care providers mitigate some of these harms? For example, for people who delayed screening and diagnosis, are providers able to perform triage, so that those at highest risk are prioritized?

“From a strictly cancer control point of view, let’s get those people who delayed screening, or followup to a positive test, or treatment back on schedule as soon as possible,” Feuer said. “But it’s not a simple calculus, because in every situation, we have to weigh the harms and benefits. As we come out of the pandemic, it tips more and more to, ‘Let’s get back to business with respect to cancer control.’

“Telemedicine doesn’t completely substitute for seeing patients in person, but at least people could get the advice they need, and then are triaged through their health care providers to indicate if they really should prioritize coming in. That helps the individual and the health care provider  weigh the harms and benefits, and try to strategize about what’s best for any individual.”

If the pandemic continues to disrupt routine care, cancer-related mortality rates would rise beyond the predictions in this model.

“I think this analysis begins to help us understand the costs with regard to cancer outcomes of the pandemic,” Sharpless said. “Let’s all agree we will do everything in our power to minimize these adverse effects, to protect our patients from cancer suffering.”

UPDATED: 10/11/2021

Patients with Cancer Appear More Vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2: A Multicenter Study during the COVID-19 Outbreak


Mengyuan DaiDianbo LiuMiao LiuFuxiang ZhouGuiling LiZhen ChenZhian ZhangHua YouMeng WuQichao ZhengYong XiongHuihua XiongChun WangChangchun ChenFei XiongYan ZhangYaqin PengSiping GeBo ZhenTingting YuLing WangHua WangYu LiuYeshan ChenJunhua MeiXiaojia GaoZhuyan LiLijuan GanCan HeZhen LiYuying ShiYuwen QiJing YangDaniel G. TenenLi ChaiLorelei A. MucciMauricio Santillana and Hongbing Cai. Patients with Cancer Appear More Vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2: A Multicenter Study during the COVID-19 Outbreak


The novel COVID-19 outbreak has affected more than 200 countries and territories as of March 2020. Given that patients with cancer are generally more vulnerable to infections, systematic analysis of diverse cohorts of patients with cancer affected by COVID-19 is needed. We performed a multicenter study including 105 patients with cancer and 536 age-matched noncancer patients confirmed with COVID-19. Our results showed COVID-19 patients with cancer had higher risks in all severe outcomes. Patients with hematologic cancer, lung cancer, or with metastatic cancer (stage IV) had the highest frequency of severe events. Patients with nonmetastatic cancer experienced similar frequencies of severe conditions to those observed in patients without cancer. Patients who received surgery had higher risks of having severe events, whereas patients who underwent only radiotherapy did not demonstrate significant differences in severe events when compared with patients without cancer. These findings indicate that patients with cancer appear more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.

Significance: Because this is the first large cohort study on this topic, our report will provide much-needed information that will benefit patients with cancer globally. As such, we believe it is extremely important that our study be disseminated widely to alert clinicians and patients.


A new acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, named SARS-CoV-2 by the World Health Organization (WHO), has rapidly spread around the world since its first reported case in late December 2019 from Wuhan, China (1). As of March 2020, this virus has affected more than 200 countries and territories, infecting more than 800,000 individuals and causing more than 40,000 deaths (2).

With more than 18 million new cases per year globally, cancer affects a significant portion of the population. Individuals affected by cancer are more susceptible to infections due to coexisting chronic diseases, overall poor health status, and systemic immunosuppressive states caused by both cancer and anticancer treatments (3). As a consequence, patients with cancer who are infected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus may experience more difficult outcomes than other populations. Until now, there is still no systematic evaluation of the effects that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has of patients with cancer in a representative population. A recent study reported a higher risk of severe events in patients with cancer when compared with patients without cancer (4); however, the small sample size of SARS-CoV-2 patients with cancer used in the study limited how representative it was of the whole population and made it difficult to conduct more insightful analyses, such as comparing clinical characteristics of patients with different types of cancer, as well as anticancer treatments (5, 6).

Using patient information collected from 14 hospitals in Hubei Province, China, the epicenter of the 2019–2020 COVID-19 outbreak, we describe the clinical characteristics and outcomes [death, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, development of severe/critical symptoms, and utilization of invasive mechanical ventilation] of patients affected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus for 105 hospitalized patients with cancer and 536 patients without cancer. We document our findings for different cancer types and stages, as well as different types of cancer treatments. We believe the information and insights provided in this study will help improve our understanding of the effects of SARS-CoV-2 in patients with cancer.


Patients Characteristics

In total, 105 COVID-19 patients with cancer were enrolled in our study for the time period January 1, 2020, to February 24, 2020, from 14 hospitals in Wuhan, China. COVID-19 patients without cancer matched by the same hospital, hospitalization time, and age were randomly selected as our control group. Our patient population included 339 females and 302 males. Patients with cancer [median = 64.00, interquartile range (IQR) = 14.00], when compared with those without cancer (median = 63.50, IQR = 14.00) had similar age distributions (by design), experienced more in-hospital infections [20 (19.04%) of 105 patients vs. 8 (1.49%) of 536 patients;P < 0.01], and had more smoking history [36 (34.28%) of 105 patients vs. 46 (8.58%) of 536 patients; P < 0.01], but had no significant differences in sex, other baseline symptoms, and other comorbidities (Table 1). With respect to signs and symptoms upon admission, COVID-19 patients with cancer were similar to those without cancer except for a higher prevalence of chest distress [15 (14.29%) of 105 patients vs. 36 (6.16%) of 536 patients; P = 0.02].

Table 1.

Characteristics of COVID-19 patients with and without cancer

Clinical Outcomes

Compared with COVID-19 patients without cancer, patients with cancer had higher observed death rates [OR, 2.34; 95% confidence interval (CI), (1.15–4.77); P = 0.03], higher rates of ICU admission [OR, 2.84; 95% CI (1.59–5.08); P < 0.01], higher rates of having at least one severe or critical symptom [OR, 2.79; 95% CI, (1.74–4.41); P < 0.01], and higher chances of needing invasive mechanical ventilation (Fig. 1A). We also conducted survival analysis on occurrence of any severe condition which included death, ICU admission, having severe symptoms, and utilization of invasive mechanical ventilation (see cumulative incidence curves in Fig. 1B). In general, patients with cancer deteriorated more rapidly than those without cancer. These observations are consistent with logistic regression results (Supplementary Fig. S1), after adjusting for age, sex, smoking, and comorbidities including diabetes, hypertension, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to our multivariate logistic regression results, patients with cancer still had an excess OR of 2.17 (P = 0.06) for death (Supplementary Fig. S1A), 1.99 (P < 0.01) for experiencing any severe symptoms (Supplementary Fig. S1B), 3.13 (P < 0.01) for ICU admission (Supplementary Fig. S1C), and 2.71 (P = 0.04) for utilization of invasive mechanical ventilation (Supplementary Fig. S1D; Supplementary Table S1). The consistency of observed ORs between the multivariate regression model and unadjusted calculation reassures the association between cancer and severe events even in the presence of other factors such as age differences.

Figure 1.

Severe conditions in patients with and without cancer, and patients with different types, stages, and treatments of cancer. Severe conditions include death, ICU admission, having severe/critical symptoms, and usage of invasive mechanical ventilation. Incidence and survival analysis of severe conditions among COVID-19 patients with cancer and without cancer (A and B), among patients with different types of cancer (C and D), among patients with metastatic and nonmetastatic cancers (E and F), among patients with lung cancer, other cancers than lung with lung metastasis, and other cancers than lung without lung metastasis (G and H), and patients receiving different types of cancer treatments (I and J). P values indicate differences between cancer subgroups versus patients without cancer. For ACEGI, *, P < 0.05; **, P < 0.01. OR, 95% CI, and P values between different subgroups are listed in Supplementary Table S2. For BDFHJ, HR, 95% CI, and P values are listed in Supplementary Table S3.

Cancer Types

Information regarding potential risks of severe conditions in SARS-CoV-2 associated with each type of cancer was calculated. We compared different conditions among cancer types (Table 2). Lung cancer was the most frequent cancer type [22 (20.95%) of 105 patients], followed by gastrointestinal cancer [13 (12.38%) of 105 patients], breast cancer [11 (10.48%) of 105 patients], thyroid cancer [11 (10.48%) of 105 patients], and hematologic cancer [9 (8.57%) of 105 patients]. As shown in Fig. 1C and D and Supplementary Table S2, patients with hematologic cancer including leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma have a relatively high death rate [3 (33.33%) of 9 patients], high ICU admission rate [4 (44.44%) of 9 patients], high risks of severe/critical symptoms [6 (66.67%) of 9 patients], and high chance of utilization of invasive mechanical ventilation [2 (22.22%) of 9 patients]. Patients with lung cancer had the second-highest risk levels, with death rate [4 (18.18%) of 22 patients], ICU admission rate [6 (27.27%) of 22 patients], risks of severe/critical symptoms [11 (50.00%) of 22 patients], and the chance of utilization of invasive mechanical ventilation [4 (18.18%) of 22 patients; Table 2].

Table 2.

Severe events in 105 patients with cancer for each type of cancer

Cancer Stage

We found that patients with metastatic cancer (stage IV) had even higher risks of death [OR, 5.58; 95% CI (1.71–18.23); P = 0.01], ICU admission [OR, 6.59; 95% CI (2.32–18.72); P < 0.01], having severe conditions [OR, 5.97; 95% CI (2.24–15.91); P < 0.01], and use of invasive mechanical ventilation [OR, 55.42; 95% CI (13.21–232.47); P < 0.01]. In contrast, patients with nonmetastatic cancer did not demonstrate statistically significant differences compared with patients without cancer, with all P > 0.05 (Fig. 1E and F; Supplementary Tables S2 and S3). In addition, when compared with patients without cancer, patients with lung cancer or other cancers with lung metastasis also showed higher risks of death, ICU admission rates, higher critical symptoms, and use of invasive mechanical ventilation, with all P values below 0.01, but other cancers without lung metastasis had no statistically significant differences (all P values > 0.05; Fig. 1G and H; Supplementary Table S3) when compared with patients without cancer.

Cancer Treatments

Among the 105 COVID-19 patients with cancer in our study, 13 (12.26%) had radiotherapy, 17 (14.15%) received chemotherapy, 8 (7.62%) received surgery, 4 (3.81%) had targeted therapy, and 6 (5.71%) had immunotherapy within 40 days before the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. All of the targeted therapeutic drugs were EGFR–tyrosine kinase inhibitors for treatment of lung cancer, and all of the immunotherapy drugs were PD-1 inhibitors for the treatment of lung cancer. A patient with cancer may have more than one type of therapy. Our observation suggested that patients who received immunotherapy tended to have high rates of death [2 (33.33%) of 6 patients] and high chances of developing critical symptoms [4 (66.67%) of 6 patients]. Patients who received surgery demonstrated higher rates of death [2 (25.00%) of 8 patients], higher chances of ICU admission [3 (37.50%) of 8 patients], higher chances of having severe or critical symptoms [5 (62.50%) of 8 patients], and higher use of invasive ventilation [2 (25.00%) of 8 patients] than other treatments excluding immunotherapy. However, patients with cancer who received radiotherapy did not show statistically significant differences in having any severe events when compared with patients without cancer, with all P values > 0.10 (Fig. 1I and J). Clinical details on the cancer diagnoses and cancer treatments are summarized in Supplementary Table S4.

Timeline of Severe Events

To evaluate the time-dependent evolution of the disease, we conducted the timeline of different events for COVID-19 patients with cancer (Fig. 2A) and COVID-19 patients without cancer (Fig. 2B) with death and other severe events marked in the figure. COVID-19 patients with cancer had a mean length of stay of 27.01 days (SD 9.52) and patients without cancer had a mean length of stay of 17.75 days (SD 8.64); the difference is significant (Wilcoxon test, P < 0.01). To better clarify the contributing factors that might influence outcomes, we also included logistic regression of COVID-19 patients with cancer adjusted by immunosuppression levels in Supplementary Table S5. However, no significant association between immunosuppression and severe outcomes was observed from the analysis (with all P > 0.05).

Figure 2.

Timeline of events for COVID-19 patients. A, Timeline of events in COVID-19 patients with cancer. B, Timeline of events in COVID-19 patients without cancer. For visualization purposes, patients without timeline information are excluded and only 105 COVID-19 patients without cancer are shown.


The findings in this study suggest that patients with cancer infected with SARS-CoV-2 tend to have more severe outcomes when compared with patients without cancer. Patients with hematologic cancer, lung cancer, and cancers in metastatic stages demonstrated higher rates of severe events compared with patients without cancer. In addition, patients who underwent cancer surgery showed higher death rates and higher chances of having critical symptoms.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has spread rapidly globally; thus, many countries have not been ready to handle the large volume of people affected by this outbreak due to a lack of knowledge about how this coronavirus affects the general population. To date, reports on the general population infected with SARS-CoV-2 suggest elderly males have a higher incidence and death rate (7, 8). Limited information is known about the outcome of patients with cancer who contract this highly communicable disease. Cancer is among the top causes of death. Asia, Europe, and North America have the highest incidence of cancer in the world (9), and at the moment of the writing of this study the SARS-CoV-2 virus is mainly spreading in these three areas (referred from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/s0226-Covid-19-spread.htmlhttps://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/27/world/coronavirusnews.html). Although COVID-19 patients with cancer may share some epidemiologic features with the general population with this disease, they may also have additional clinical characteristics. Therefore, we conducted this study on patients with cancer with coexisting COVID-19 disease to evaluate the potential effect of COVID-19 on patients with cancer.

On the basis of our analysis, COVID-19 patients with cancer tend to have more severe outcomes when compared with the noncancer population. Although COVID-19 is reported to have a relatively low death rate of 2% to 3% in the general population (10), patients with cancer and COVID-19 not only have a nearly 3-fold increase in the death rate than that of COVID-19 patients without cancer, but also tend to have much higher severity of their illness. Altogether, these findings suggest that patients with cancer are a much more vulnerable population in the current COVID-19 outbreak. Our findings are consistent with those presented in a previous study based on 18 patients with cancer (4). Because of the limited number of patients with cancer in the previous study, the authors concluded that among patients with cancer, age is the only risk factor for the severity of the illness. On the basis of our data on 105 patients with cancer, we have discovered additional risk factors, including cancer types, cancer stage, and cancer treatments, which may contribute to the severity of the disease among patients with cancer.

Our data demonstrate that the severity of SARS-CoV-2 infection in patients is significantly affected by the types of tumors. From our analysis, patients with hematologic cancer have the highest severity and death rates among all patients with cancer, and lung cancer follows second. Patients with hematologic cancer in our study include patients with leukemia, myeloma, and lymphoma, who have a more compromised immune system than patients with solid tumors (11). These patients all had a rapidly deteriorating clinical course once infected with COVID-19. Because malignant or dysfunctional plasma cells, lymphocytes, or white blood cells in general in hematologic malignancies have decreased immunologic function (12–14), this could be the main reason why patients with hematologic cancer have very high severity and death rates. All patients with hematologic cancer are prone to the complications of serious infection (12–14), which can exacerbate the condition which could have worsened in patients with COVID-19. In our study, 55.56% of patients with hematologic cancer had severe immunosuppression, which may be the main reason for deteriorated outcomes. Although the small sample size limits representativity of the observation, we believe our finding can serve as an informative starting point for further investigation when a larger cohort from a wide range of healthcare providers becomes available. Among solid tumors, lung cancer is the highest risk category disease in patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection (Fig. 1C). Decreased lung function and severe infection in patients with lung cancer could contribute to the worse outcome in this subpopulation (15, 16).

In our analysis, we classified the SARS-CoV-2 infection–related high risk factors based on death, severe or critical illness, ICU admission, and the utilization of invasive mechanical ventilation. Using these parameters, we detected a multi-fold increase in risk in the cancer population, in contrast to the noncancer population. If there were primary or metastatic tumors in the lungs, patients were more prone to a deteriorated course in a short time. Intriguingly, when patients with cancer had only early-stage disease without metastasis, we did not observe any difference between the cancer and noncancer population in terms of COVID-19–related death rate or severity (Fig. 1E). The stage of cancer diagnosis seemed to play a significant role in the severity and death rate of COVID-19.

Patients with cancer received a wide range of treatments, and we also found that different types of treatments had different influences on severity and death when these patients contracted COVID-19. Recently, immunotherapy has assumed a very important role in treating tumors, which aids in treatment of cancer by blocking the immune escape of cancer cells. But in our study, in contrast to patients with cancer with other treatments, patients with immunotherapy had the highest death rate and the highest severity of illness, a very puzzling finding. According to pathologic studies on the patients with COVID-19, there were desquamation of pneumocytes and hyaline membrane formation, implying that these patients had acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS; ref. 17). ARDS induced by cytokine storm is reported to be the main reason for death of SARS-CoV-2–infected patients (18). It is possible that in this setting, immunotherapy induces the release of a large amount of cytokines, which can be toxic to normal cells, including lung epithelial cells (19–21), and therefore lead to a more severe illness. However, in this study the number of patients with immunotherapy was too small; further research with a large case population needs to be conducted in the future.

In addition, COVID-19 patients with cancer who are under active treatment or not under active treatment do not show differences in their outcomes, and there is a significant difference between COVID-19 patients with cancer but not with active treatment and patients without cancer (Supplementary Table S2). These results indicate that COVID-19 patients with both active treatment and just cancer history have a higher risk of developing severe events than noncancer COVID-19 patients. The possible reasons could be due to some known cancer-related complications, for example, anemia, hypoproteinaemia, or dyspnea in early phase of COVID-19 (22). We considered that cancer had a lifetime effect on patients and that cancer survivors always need routine follow-up after primary resection. Therefore, in clinical COVID-19 patient management, equivalent attention needs to be paid to those with cancer whether they are under active therapeutics or not during the outbreak of COVID-19.

This study has several limitations. Although the cohort of COVID-19 patients with cancer is one of the largest in Hubei province, China, the epicenter of the initial outbreak, a larger cohort from the whole country or even from multiple countries will be more representative. Large-scale national and international research collaboration will be necessary to achieve this. At the initial stage of the outbreak, data collection and research activities were not a priority of the hospitals. Therefore, it was not possible to record and collect some data that are potentially informative for our analysis in a timely manner. In addition, due to the urgency of clinical treatment, medical data used in this study were largely disconnected from the patients’ historical electronic medical records, which are mostly stored with a different healthcare provider than the medical center providing COVID-19 care. This left us with limited information about each patient.

Our study is the midsize cohort study on this topic and will provide much-needed information on risk factors of this population. We hope that our findings will help countries better protect patients with cancer affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.


Study Design and Patients

We conducted a multicenter study focusing on the clinical characteristics of confirmed cases of COVID-19 patients with cancer in 14 hospitals in Hubei province, China; all of the 14 hospitals served as government-designated hospitals for patients diagnosed with COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2–infected patients without cancer matched by the same hospital and hospitalization time were randomly selected as our control group. In addition, as age is one of the major predictors of severity of respiratory diseases like COVID-19 (4), we excluded from our analysis 117 younger COVID-19 patients without cancer so that median ages of patients with cancer (median = 64.0, IRQ = 14.00) and patients without cancers (median = 63.5, IQR = 14.00) would be comparable.

End Points and Assessments

There were four primary outcomes analyzed in this study: death, admission into the ICU, development of severe or critical symptoms, and utilization of invasive mechanical ventilation. The clinical definition of severe/critical symptoms follows the 5th edition of the 2019Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Diagnostic Criteria published by the National Health Commission in China, including septic shock, ARDS, acute kidney injury, disseminated intravascular coagulation, and rhabdomyolysis.

Case Fatality Rate of Cancer Patients with COVID-19 in a New York Hospital System


Vikas MehtaSanjay GoelRafi KabarritiDaniel ColeMendel GoldfingerAna Acuna-VillaordunaKith PradhanRaja ThotaStan ReissmanJoseph A. SparanoBenjamin A. GartrellRichard V. SmithNitin OhriMadhur GargAndrew D. RacineShalom KalnickiRoman Perez-SolerBalazs Halmos and Amit Verma. Case Fatality Rate of Cancer Patients with COVID-19 in a New York Hospital System


Patients with cancer are presumed to be at increased risk from COVID-19 infection–related fatality due to underlying malignancy, treatment-related immunosuppression, or increased comorbidities. A total of 218 COVID-19–positive patients from March 18, 2020, to April 8, 2020, with a malignant diagnosis were identified. A total of 61 (28%) patients with cancer died from COVID-19 with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 37% (20/54) for hematologic malignancies and 25% (41/164) for solid malignancies. Six of 11 (55%) patients with lung cancer died from COVID-19 disease. Increased mortality was significantly associated with older age, multiple comorbidities, need for ICU support, and elevated levels of D-dimer, lactate dehydrogenase, and lactate in multivariate analysis. Age-adjusted CFRs in patients with cancer compared with noncancer patients at our institution and New York City reported a significant increase in case fatality for patients with cancer. These data suggest the need for proactive strategies to reduce likelihood of infection and improve early identification in this vulnerable patient population.

Significance: COVID-19 in patients with cancer is associated with a significantly increased risk of case fatality, suggesting the need for proactive strategies to reduce likelihood of infection and improve early identification in this vulnerable patient population.


The novel coronavirus COVID-19, or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), has spread rapidly throughout the world since its emergence in December 2019 (1). The virus has infected approximately 2.9 million people in more than 200 countries with more than 200,000 deaths at the time of writing (2). Most recently, the United States has become the epicenter of this pandemic, reporting an estimated 956,000 cases of COVID-19 infection, with the largest concentration in New York City (NYC) and its surrounding areas (approximately >203,000 cases or 35% of all U.S. infections; ref. 3).

Early data suggests that 14% to 19% of infected patients will develop significant sequelae with acute respiratory distress syndrome, septic shock, and/or multiorgan failure (1, 4, 5), and approximately 1% to 4% will die from the disease (2). Recent meta-analyses have demonstrated an almost 6-fold increase in the odds of mortality for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and a 2.5-fold increase for those with diabetes, possibly due to the underlying pulmonary and immune dysfunction (6, 7). Given these findings, patients with cancer would ostensibly be at a higher risk of developing and succumbing to COVID-19 due to immunosuppression, increased coexisting medical conditions, and, in cases of lung malignancy, underlying pulmonary compromise. Patients with hematologic cancer, or those who are receiving active chemotherapy or immunotherapy, may be particularly susceptible because of increased immunosuppression and/or dysfunction.

According the NCI, there were approximately 15.5 million cancer survivors and an estimated 1,762,450 new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2019 (8). Early case series from China and Italy have suggested that patients with malignancy are more susceptible to severe infection and mortality from COVID-19 (9–12), a phenomenon that has been noted in other pandemics (13). Many of these descriptive studies have included small patient cohorts and have lacked cancer site–specific mortality data or information regarding active cancer treatment. As New York has emerged as the current epicenter of the pandemic, we sought to investigate the risk posed by COVID-19 to our cancer population with more granular data regarding cancer type and active treatment, and identify factors that placed patients with cancer at highest risk of fatality from COVID-19.


Outcomes of 218 Cancer Patients with COVID-19 Show High Overall Mortality with Tumor-Specific Patterns

A total of 218 patients with cancer and COVID-19 were treated in Montefiore Health System (New York, NY) from March 18, 2020, to April 8, 2020. These included 164 (75%) patients with solid tumors and 54 (25%) with hematologic malignancies. This cohort included 127 (58%) males and 91 (42%) females. The cohort was predominantly composed of adult patients (215/218, 98.6%) with a median age of 69 years (range 10–92 years).

Sixty-one (28%) patients expired as a result of COVID-19disease at the time of analysis (Table 1). The mortality was 25% among all patients with solid tumors and was seen to occur at higher rates in patients with lung cancers (55%), gastrointestinal (GI) cancers [colorectal (38%), pancreatic (67%), upper GI (38%)], and gynecologic malignancies (38%). Genitourinary (15%) and breast (14%) cancers were associated with relatively lower mortality with COVID-19 infection.

Table 1.

Outcomes in patients with cancer and COVID-19

Hematologic malignancies were associated with higher rate of mortality with COVID-19 (37%). Myeloid malignancies [myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS)/acute myeloid leukemia (AML)/myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN)] showed a trend for higher mortality compared with lymphoid neoplasms [non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)/chronic lymphoid leukemia (CLL)/acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)/multiple myeloma (MM)/Hodgkin lymphoma; Table 1]. Rates of ICU admission and ventilator use were slightly higher for hematologic malignancies than solid tumors (26% vs. 19% and 11% vs. 10%, respectively), but this did not achieve statistical significance.

Disease Characteristics of Cancer Patients with COVID-19 Demonstrate the Effect of Age, Comorbidities, and Laboratory Biomarkers on Mortality

Analysis of patient characteristics with mortality did not show any gender bias (Table 2). Older age was significantly associated with increased mortality, with median age of deceased cohort at 76 years when compared with 66 years for the nondeceased group (P = 0.0006; Cochran-Armitage test). No significant associations between race and mortality were seen.

Table 2.

Disease characteristics of patients with cancer with COVID-19 and association with mortality

COVID-19 disease severity, as evident from patients who needed ICU care and ventilator support, was significantly associated with increased mortality. Interestingly, active disease (<1 year) and advanced metastatic disease showed a trend for increased mortality, but the association did not achieve statistical significance (P = 0.09 and 0.06, respectively). Active chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment were not associated with increased case fatality. Very few patients in this cohort were on immunotherapy, and this did not show any associations with mortality.

Analysis of comorbidities demonstrated increased risk of dying from COVID-19 in patients with cancer with concomitant heart disease [hypertension (HTN), coronary artery disease (CAD), and congestive heart failure (CHF)] and chronic lung disease (Table 2). Diabetes and chronic kidney disease were not associated with increased mortality in univariate analysis (Table 2).

We also analyzed laboratory values obtained prior to diagnosis of COVID-19 and during the time of nadir after COVID-19 positivity in our cancer cohort. Relative anemia pre–COVID-19 was associated with increased mortality, whereas pre-COVID platelet and lymphocyte counts were not (Table 3).Post–COVID-19 infection, lower hemoglobin levels, higher total white blood cell (WBC) counts, and higher absolute neutrophil counts were associated with increased mortality (Table 3). Analysis of other serologic biomarkers demonstrated that elevated D-dimer, lactate, and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) in patients were significantly correlated with dying (Table 3).

Table 3.

Laboratory values of cancer patients with COVID-19 and association with mortality

Next, we conducted multivariate analyses and used variables that showed a significant association with mortality in univariate analysis (P < 0.05 in univariate was seen with age, ICU admission, hypertension, chronic lung disease, CAD, CHF, baseline hemoglobin, nadir hemoglobin, WBC counts, D-dimer, lactate, and LDH). Gender was forced in the model and we used a composite score of comorbidities from the sum of indicators for diabetes mellitus (DM), HTN, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease, CAD, and CHF capped at a maximum of 3. In the multivariate model (Supplementary Table S1), we observed that older age [age < 65; OR, 0.23; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.07–0.6], higher composite comorbidity score (OR, 1.52; 95% CI, 1.02–2.33), ICU admission (OR, 4.83; 95% CI, 1.46–17.15), and elevated inflammatory markers (D-dimer, lactate, and LDH) were significantly associated with mortality after multivariate comparison in patients with cancer and COVID-19.

Interaction with the Healthcare Environment was a Prominent Source of Exposure for Patients with Cancer

A detailed analysis of deceased patients (N = 61; Supplementary Table S2) demonstrated that many were either nursing-home or shelter (n = 22) residents, and/or admitted as an inpatient or presented to the emergency room within the 30 days prior to their COVID-19 positive test (21/61). Altogether, 37/61 (61%) of the deceased cohort were exposed to the healthcare environment at the outset of the COVID-19 epidemic. Few of the patients in the cohort were on active oncologic therapy. The vast majority had a poor Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group performance status (ECOG PS; 51/61 with an ECOG PS of 2 or higher) and carried multiple comorbidities.

Patients with Cancer Demonstrate a Markedly Increased COVID-19 Mortality Rate Compared with Noncancer and All NYC COVID-19 Patients

An age- and sex-matched cohort of 1,090 patients at a 5:1 ratio of noncancer to cancer COVID-19 patients from the same time period and from the same hospital system was also obtained after propensity matching and used as control to estimate the increased risk posed to our cancer population (Table 4). We observed case fatality rates (CFR) were elevated in all age cohorts in patients with cancer and achieved statistical significance in the age groups 45–64 and in patients older than 75 years of age.

Table 4.

Comparison of cancer and COVID-19 mortality with all NYC cases (official NYC numbers up to 5 p.m., April 12, 2020) and a control group from the same healthcare facility

To also compare our CFRs with a larger dataset from the greater NYC region, we obtained official case numbers from New York State (current up to April 12, 2020; ref. 3). In all cohorts, the percentage of deceased patients was found to rise sharply with increasing age (Table 4). Strikingly, CFRs in cancer patients with COVID-19 were significantly, many-fold higher in all age groups when compared with all NYC cases (Table 4).


To our knowledge, this is the first large report of COVID-19 CFRs among patients with cancer in the United States. The overall case fatality among COVID-19–infected patients with cancer in an academic center located within the current epicenter of the global pandemic exceeded 25%. In addition, striking tumor-specific discrepancies were seen, with marked increased susceptibility for those with hematologic malignancies and lung cancer. CFRs were 2 to 3 times the age-specific percentages seen in our noncancer population and the greater NYC area for all COVID-19 patients.

Our results seem to mirror the typical prognosis of the various cancer types. Among the most common malignancies within the U.S. population (lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal), there was 55% mortality among patients with lung cancer, 14% for breast cancer, 20% for prostate cancer, and 38% for colorectal cancer. This pattern reflects the overall known lethality of these cancers. The percent annual mortality (ratio of annual deaths/new diagnosis) is 59.3% for lung cancer, 15.2% for breast cancer, 17.4% for prostate cancer, and 36% for colorectal cancer (8). This suggests that COVID-19 infection amplifies the risk of death regardless of the cancer type.

Patients with hematologic malignancies demonstrate a higher mortality than those with solid tumors. These patients tend to be treated with more myelosuppressive therapy, and are often severely immunocompromised because of underlying disease. There is accumulating evidence that one major mechanism of injury may be a cytokine-storm syndrome secondary to hyperinflammation, which results in pulmonary damage. Patients with hematologic malignancy may potentially be more susceptible to cytokine-mediated inflammation due to perturbations in myeloid and lymphocyte cell compartments (14).

Many of the predictive risk factors for mortality in our cancer cohort were similar to published data among all COVID-19 patients. A recent meta-analysis highlighted the association of chronic diseases including hypertension (OR, 2.29), diabetes (OR, 2.47), COPD (OR, 5.97), cardiovascular disease (OR, 2.93), and cerebrovascular disease (OR, 3.89) with a risk for developing severe COVID-19 infection among all patients (15). In our cancer patient dataset, a large proportion of patients had at least one of these concurrent risk factors. In a univariate model, we observed significant associations of death from COVID-19 infection in patients with hypertension, chronic lung disease, coronary heart disease, and congestive heart failure. Serologic predictors in our dataset predictive for mortality included anemia at time of infection, and elevated LDH, D-dimer, and lactic acid, which correlate with available data from all COVID-19 patients.

Rapidly accumulating reports suggest that age and race may play a role in the severity of COVID-19 infection. In our cancer cohort, the median age of the patients succumbing to COVID-19 was 76 years, which was 10 years older than patients who have remained alive. The CDC has reported a disproportionate number of African Americans are affected by COVID-19 in the United States, accounting for 33% of all hospitalized patients while constituting only 13% of the U.S. population (15). However, the racial breakdown of our patients was proportional to the Bronx population as a whole, and race was not a significant predictor of mortality in our univariate or multivariate models. Our data might argue that the increased mortality noted in the larger NYC populations might also likely be driven by socioeconomic and health disparities in addition to underlying biological factors. Overall mortality with COVID-19 has been higher in the Bronx, which is a socioeconomically disadvantaged community with a mean per capita income of $19,721 (16, 17). Our patients with cancer were predominantly from the Bronx and potentially had increased mortality in part due to socioeconomic factors and comorbidities. Even after accounting for the increased mortality seen in COVID-19 in the Bronx, the many-fold magnitude increase in death rates within our cancer cohort can potentially be attributed to the vulnerability of oncology patients. This was evident in the comparison with a control group from the same hospital system that demonstrated a significant association of cancer with mortality in patients between 45 and 64 years of age and older than 75 years of age.

Interaction with the healthcare environment prior to widespread knowledge of the epidemic within NYC was a prominent source of exposure for our patients with cancer. Many of those who succumbed to COVID-19 infection were older and frail with significant impairment of pulmonary and/or immunologic function. These findings could be utilized to risk-stratify patients with cancer during this pandemic, or in future viral airborne outbreaks, and inform mitigation practices for high-risk individuals. These strategies could include early and aggressive social distancing, resource allocation toward more outpatient-based care and telemedicine, testing of asymptomatic high-risk patients, and institution of strict infection-control measures. Indeed, such strategies were implemented early in the pandemic at our center, possibly explaining the relatively low number of infected patients on active therapy.

There were several limitations to our study. Data regarding do not resuscitate or intubate orders were not included in the analysis and could have significantly affected the decision-making and mortality surrounding these patients. Although an attempt was made to control for those receiving active cancer treatment or with additional comorbidities, we could not fully account for the patients’ preexisting health conditions prior to COVID-19 infection. Differential treatment paradigms for COVID-19 infection and sequelae were not controlled for in our analysis. Because of the limited follow-up, the full clinical course of these patients may not be included. Future comparative studies to noncancer patients will be needed to fully ascertain the risk posed to oncology patients. Finally, though our data does include those who were tested and discharged within our health system, we cannot fully account for those who were tested in nonaffiliated outpatient settings, which may potentially bias our study to more severe cases. We also acknowledge that the mortality rate is highly dependent on the breadth of testing, and therefore understand that more widespread detection of viral infection would likely alter the results.

Our data suggest significant risk posed to patients with cancer infected with COVID-19, with an observed significant increase in mortality. The highest susceptibility appears to be in hematologic or lung malignancies, suggesting that proactive strategies to reduce likelihood of infection and improve early identification of COVID-19 positivity in the cancer patient population are clearly warranted. Overall, we hope and expect that our data from the current epicenter of the COVID-19 epidemic will help inform other healthcare systems, patients with cancer, and the public about the particular vulnerability of patients with cancer to this disease.

For more Articles on COVID-19 please see our Coronavirus Portal at


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Live Notes, Real Time Conference Coverage 2020 AACR Virtual Meeting April 28, 2020 Session on COVID-19 and Cancer 9:00 AM

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, PhD


COVID-19 and Cancer


Antoni Ribas
UCLA Medical Center

  • Almost 60,000 viewed the AACR 2020 Virtual meeting for the April 27 session
  • The following speakers were the first cancer researchers treating patients at the epicenters of the pandemic even though nothing was known about the virus


The experience of treating patients with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic in China
Li Zhang, Tongji Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology

  • reporting a retrospective study from three hospitals from Wuhan
  • 2.2% of Wuhan cancer patients were COVID positive; most were lung cancers and most male; 35% were stage four
  • most have hospital transmission of secondary infection; had severe events when admitted
  • 74% were prescribed antivirals like ganciclovir and others; iv IgG was given to some
  • mortailtiy rate of 26%; by April 4 54% were cured and discharged; median time of infection to severe event was 7 days; clinical presentation SARS sepsis, and shock
  • by day 10 in lung cancer patients, see lung path but after supportive therapy improved
  • cancer patients at stage four who did not receive therapy were at higher risk
  • cancer patients who had received chemo in last 14 days had higher risk of infection
  • they followed up with cancer patients on I/O inhibitors;  it seemed there was only one patient that contracted COVID19 so there may not be as much risk with immune checkpoint inhibitors


TERAVOLT (Thoracic cancERs international coVid 19 cOLlaboraTion): First results of a global collaboration to address the impact of COVID-19 in patients with thoracic malignancies

Marina Chiara Garassino

Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori

Dr Marina Chiara Garassino is the Chief of the Thoracic Oncology Unit at Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori, Milan, Italy. She leads the strategy for clinical and translational research in advanced and locally advanced NSCLC, SCLC, mesothelioma and thymic malignancies. Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori in Milan is the most important comprehensive cancer in Italy and one of the most important in Europe. As a medical oncologist, she has done research in precision medicine and in immuno-oncology. Her main research interests have been mainly development of new drugs and therapeutical strategies and biomarkers. She has contributed to over 150 peer-reviewed publications, including publications as first or last author in the New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet Oncology, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Annals of Oncology. She has delivered many presentations at international congresses,  including  AACR, ASCO, ECCO, ESMO, WCLC. Her education includes a degree and further specialization in Medical Oncology at Università degli Studi in Milan. She achieved a Master Degree in Oncology management at University of Economics “Luigi Bocconi”. She completed her training with an ESMO Clinical fellowship in 2009 at Christie’s Hospital in Manchester (UK). She was a member of the EMA SAG (Scientific Advisory Group). She is serving as ESMO Council member as the Chair of the National Societies Committee. She was the ESMO National Representative for Italy for 5 years (2011-2017). She is serving on several ESMO Committees (Public Policy extended Committee, Press Committee, Women for Oncology Committee, Lung Cancer faculty, Membership Committee).She used to be an active member of the Young Oncologist Committee. She’s serving on both ESMO, WCLC and ASCO annual congress Lung Cancer Track (2019, and 2020), Chair of ESMO National Societies, from 2019. She is the founder and president of Women for Oncology Italy.

  • 2 million confirmed cases but half of patients are asymptomatic and not tested; pooled prevalance of COVID in cancer patients in Italy was 2%; must take them as high risk patients
  • they were not prepared for pandemic lasting for months instead of days; March 15 in middle of outbreak they started TERAVOLT registry; by March 26 had IRB approval; they are accruing 17 new patients per week; Ontario also joined in and has become worldwide (21 countries involved);  in registry they also included radiologic exams and COVID testing result
  • most patients were males and many smokers; 75% had SCLC; 83% of cases had one comorbility like hypertension and one third had at least one comorbility; 73.9% of patients were on treatment (they see this in their clinic: 30% on chemo or TKI alone; other patients were just on folowup
  • most of symptoms overlap with symptoms of lung cancer like pneumonia and pneumonitits and multi organ failure; most were hospitalized
  • unexpected high mortality among lung cancer patients with COVID19; this mortality seems due to COVID and not to cancer;
  • study had some limitations like short followup and some surgical cases so some bias may be present
  • she stresses don’t go it alone and make your own registry JOIN A REGISTRY


Outcome of cancer patients infected with COVID-19, including toxicity of cancer treatments
Fabrice Barlesi @barlesi
Gustave Roussy Cancer Campus

Professor Fabrice Barlesi
 As a specialist in lung cancer, precision medicine and cancer immunology, Prof. Fabrice Barlesi is a major contributor to research in the field of novel oncological therapies. He was apppointed General Director of Gustave Roussy in January 2020.
Fabrice Barlesi is Professor of Medicine at the University of Aix-Marseille. He has been head of the Multidisciplinary Oncology and Innovative Therapies Department of the Nord Hospital in Marseille (Marseille Public Hospitals) and the Marseille Centre for Early Trials in Oncology (CLIP2) which were established by him. He holds a doctorate in Sciences and Management with methods of analysis of health care systems, together with an ESSEC (international business school) master’s degree in general hospital management.
Professor Barlesi was also a co-founder of the Marseille Immunopôle French Immunology network, which aims to coordinate immunological expertise in the Aix-Marseille metropolitan area. In this context, he has organised PIONeeR (Investment in the future RHU 2017), the major international Hospital-University research project whose objective is to improve understanding of resistance to immunotherapy – anti-PD1(L1) – in lung cancer and help to prevent and overcome it. He was also vice-chair of the PACA (Provence, Alps and Côte d’Azur) Region Cancer Research Directorate.
Professor Barlesi is the author and co-author of some 300 articles in international journals and specialist publications. In 2018, the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) and the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) awarded him the prestigious Heine H. Hansen prize. He appears in the 2019 world list of most influential researchers (Highly cited researchers, Web of Science Group).
  • March 14 started protective measures and at peak had increased commited beds at highest rate
  • 12% of cancer patients tested positive for COVID; (by RTPCR); they curated data across different chemo regimens used
  • they retrospectively collected data; primary endpoint was clinical worsening; median of disease 13 days;
  • they actually had more breast cancer patients and other solid malignancies; 23% of covid cases no symptoms; 83% finally did have the symptoms after followup; diarhea actually in 10% of cases so clinics are seeing this as a symptom
  • CT scan showed 66% cases had pneumonitits like display; 25% patients were managed as outpatient
  • 24% patients worsened during treatment but 75% were able to go home (treated at home or well)
  • I/O did not have negative outcome and you can use these drugs without increasing risk to COVID
  • although many clinical trials have been hindered they are actively recruiting for COVID-cancer studies
  • outcomes with respect to death and symptoms are comparable to worldwide stats

Adapting oncologic practice to COVID19 outbreak: From outpatient triage to risk assessment for specific treatment in Madrid, Spain
Carlos Gomez-Martin
Octubre University Hospital

  • MOST slides were DO NOT POST so as requested data will not be shown; this study will be published soon
  • Summary is that Spain is seeing statistics like other European countries and similar results
  • Tocilizumab, the IL6 antagonists had been suggested as a treatment for cytokine storm and they are involved in a trial with this agent; results will be published

Experience in using oncology drugs in patients with COVID-19

Paolo A. Ascierto
Istituto Nazionale Tumori IRCCS Fondazione Pascale

  • giving surgery only for patients at highest risk of cancer mortality so using neoadjuvant therapy more often
  • telemedicine is a viable strategy for patient consult
  • for metastatic melanoma they are given highest priority for treatment
  • they are conducting a tocilizumab clinical trial and have accrued over 300 patients
  • results are in press so please look for publication soon
  • also can use TNF inhibitor, JAK inhibitor, IL1 inhibitor to treat cytokine storm

COVID-19 and cancer: Flattening the curve but widening disparities
Louis P. Voigt
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

  • Sloan has performed about 5000 COVID tests;  78 patients needed hospitilization; 15 died; 40% still in ICU
  • they do see many African American patients
  • mortality rates in US (published) have been around 50-60 % for cancer patients with COVID; Sloan prelim results are lower but still accruing data

Patients with cancer appear more vulnerable to SARS-COV-2: A multi-center study during the COVID-19 outbreak
Hongbing Cai
Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University

  • metastatic cancer showed much higher risk than non cancer but non metastatic showed increased risk too
  • main criteria of outcome was ICU admission
  • patients need to be isolated and personalized treatment plans need to be made
  • many comparisons were between non cancer and cancer which was clearest significance; had not looked at cancer types or stage grade or treatment
  • it appears that there are more questions right now than answers so data collection is a priority

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For other Articles on the Online Open Access Journal on COVID19 and Cancer please see


Opinion Articles from the Lancet: COVID-19 and Cancer Care in China and Africa

Actemra, immunosuppressive which was designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis but also approved in 2017 to treat cytokine storms in cancer patients SAVED the sickest of all COVID-19 patients

The Second in a Series of Virtual Town Halls with Leading Oncologist on Cancer Patient Care during COVID-19 Pandemic: What you need to know

Responses to the COVID-19 outbreak from Oncologists, Cancer Societies and the NCI: Important information for cancer patients


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