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Initial results from the OnCovid study found that about 1 in 6 cancer patients who became ill with COVID-19 developed side effects from the virus that lasted months later. The study based at Imperial College London is tracking COVID-19-related outcomes in people with cancer across Europe. Initial results were recently presented at the virtual meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology. The OnCovid study is expected to run until 2022.

According to the study, half of the patients had long-term respiratory symptoms after a four month follow-up. About 40% reported fatigue while another 7% developed neurocognitive problems.

Men 65 and older with two or more comorbidities and a history of smoking were the most likely to develop long COVID-19. Patients who were hospitalized for COVID-19 were significantly more likely to have long-term effects of COVID-19.

Researchers looked at patients who were receiving systemic anti-cancer therapy when they were diagnosed with COVID-19. About 13% had to stop their cancer treatment permanently while nearly 16% had to adjust their cancer treatment due to COVID.

Dr. John Greene, Infectious Diseases Program

“COVID has a lot more effects on people than you think,” said Dr. John Greene, chair of the Infectious Diseases Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “We’ve had to adjust cancer therapy for patients where they’ve had delayed treatment for several weeks because they’re so debilitated from the illness that they need time to recover.”

Immunosuppression was the most common cause for altering cancer treatment. About 40% of patients that adjusted their cancer treatment did so to avoid being hospitalized. Roughly 20% did so to avoid the risk of adverse events.

“COVID-19 causes massive inflammation in your body,” said Greene. “All of your comorbid illnesses could put you at risk for a longer term than just the initial COVID effects.”

Both stopping or altering treatment affected patients’ long-term outcomes, according to the study’s lead author.

“We found permanent treatment discontinuation to be associated with an increased risk of death, whereas systemic anti-cancer treatment adjustments did not adversely affect survival,” said Dr. Alessio Cortellini of the University of L’Aquila in Italy. “Therefore, treatment adjustments can be safely pursued to preserve oncological outcomes in patients who remain eligible for treatment.”