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Study Finds More Than Half of U.S. Cancer Survivors Have Underlying Medical Conditions Associated With Severe COVID-19 Illness


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A recent study has found that more than half (56.4%) of cancer survivors in the United States reported having additional underlying medical conditions associated with severe COVID-19 illness. The report, published by Jiang et al in JNCI: The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, suggested that the prevalence of these conditions among cancer survivors is nearly 40% higher than that in the general population. 

Study Methods

Cancer, and other underlying medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart diseases, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and obesity, are associated with increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness. For this study, used data from the 2016–2018 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), a national cross-sectional survey of the civilian, noninstitutionalized population, to examine the prevalence of underlying medical conditions associated with severe COVID-19 Illness in adult cancer survivors in the United States. 

“This study investigates the prevalence and factors associated with these underlying medical conditions among cancer survivors in the U.S. We felt it was important to compile and analyze the available data to inform the public and guide policymakers on opportunities to prevent and control severe COVID-19–associated illness through strategies such as risk-stratified vaccine distribution,” said first study author Changchuan Jiang, MD, MPH, of the Department of Medicine, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

KEY POINTS

  • Most cancer survivors reported having more than one of the conditions associated with severe COVID-19 illness, and nearly one-quarter reported more than two conditions.
  • Medical conditions were more prevalent among male survivors, those with less than high school completion, non-Hispanic Black survivors, survivors with a low income, and those living in the South.

Prevalence of Underlying Medical Conditions

Most cancer survivors reported having more than one of the conditions associated with severe COVID-19 illness, and nearly one-quarter reported more than two conditions. These conditions were more prevalent in survivors of kidney, liver, and uterine cancers, as well as Black survivors, those with low socioeconomic status, and public insurance. 

Older age was associated with higher prevalence of medical conditions among cancer survivors and adults without a cancer history. However, even in the youngest age group (18–44 years), nearly half of cancer survivors (47.6%) had at least one additional condition associated with severe COVID-19 illness. In addition to increasing prevalence with age, medical conditions were more prevalent among male survivors (59.9%), those with less than high school completion (68.0%), non-Hispanic Black survivors (67.2%), survivors with a low income (71.7%), and those living in the Southern U.S. (59.2%). 

“The findings highlight the need to protect survivors against COVID-19 transmission, and to prioritize cancer survivors in vaccine allocation,” said senior author Xuesong Han, PhD, of the Department of Data Science, American Cancer Society. 

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit academic.oup.com.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.
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