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Recently diagnosed cancer patients are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection and face more serious illness than those without cancer, according to a new study. That risk is also significantly higher for Blacks than whites.

The study used artificial intelligence to comb through the health records of 73.4 million patients from 360 hospitals across the U.S. Researchers found that patients diagnosed with cancer in the past year were at greater risk for COVID-19 infection compared to those without cancer or those diagnosed longer ago. Patients with leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer were at the greatest risk.

“COVID-19 is known to have a worse prognosis in hematological malignancy than solid tumor patients due to greater immunosuppression and inability to mount an immune response to control the virus,” said Dr. John Greene, chair of the Infectious Diseases Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “This is also true for all respiratory viruses but has the highest risk for COVID-19 infection.”

For Black cancer patients, the risk of COVID-19 infection was highest in patients who had breast, prostate, colorectal or lung cancer. They were also more likely to be hospitalized for cancer alone, COVID-19 alone or both diseases compared to white patients.

“African Americans have a higher risk of severe disease and mortality in general, and it is heightened by having cancer as well,” said Greene.

The study’s findings are consistent with other data showing that COVID-19 affects African American individuals at a disproportionally high rate. The research suggests that other factors, such as social adversity, economic status, access to health care and lifestyle may contribute to the racial disparity.

Although advanced age is a risk factor for cancer, the study showed age had no additional effect on the risk for COVID-19 infection among cancer patients. Women had a higher risk of COVID-19 than men among patients with colorectal cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The reasons for this gender disparity are unclear.