Many cancer patients who contracted Covid-19 have recovered without complications, suggesting that they may not be at increased risk of mortality due to their condition.
In the past two months, oncologists at Fortis Hospital debated the course of treatment of cancer patients at the hospital. They had four cancer patients who contracted Covid-19, three of whom were aged above 50, while one was 35 years old.
“We had many discussions on whether their chemotherapy needed to be modified because they contracted Covid-19. But as we continued treatment, we saw their outcomes were similar to that of non-cancer Covid patients,” said Dr Vivek Belathur, medical oncology consultant at Fortis Hospital.
Also, each of the patients had a different type of cancer: lung cancer, lymphoma, breast cancer and colon cancer.
“Chemotherapy and Covid-19 can lead to worsening of a patient’s condition. Although cancer patients are immunosuppressed, in our experience, the patients recovered well. Their decreased immunity did not make recovery difficult for them,” he said.
A study titled “Covid-19 mortality in patients with cancer in chemotherapy or other anticancer treatments” published in the Lancet in May also supports what doctors in Bengaluru have seen in their patients.
The study found chemotherapy had no significant effect on mortality from Covid-19, compared with patients with cancer who had not received chemo recently.
They also found no evidence that other anti-cancer treatments such as cytotoxic chemo posed an increased risk of mortality from Covid-19 compared with those not on active treatment.
Oncologists at Vikram Hospital too had several discussions on how to proceed with treatment when their cancer patients contracted Covid-19.
“We debated whether intravenous treatment should be changed to oral chemo, and whether we should reduce sessions from once a week to once in three weeks,” said Dr Niti Raizada, senior medical oncologist consultant at Vikram Hospital.
But they too found most cancer patients recovered like any other Covid patient.
“There are studies which show that immunotherapies (a type of treatment) affect outcomes for Covid cancer patients, but we haven’t seen such cases. We had stopped bone marrow transplants, but have resumed it now.”
However, delivery of chemotherapy, which is immunosuppressive, comes with the risk of reactivation, cautions Dr Srinivas B J, medical oncologist consultant at HCG Cancer Hospital.
“There is always the risk of re-activation of Covid-19 among cancer patients who contract the disease before or after chemotherapy. Some studies suggest Covid antibodies disappear after receiving chemotherapy, exposing them to risk of reinfection,” he said.