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Why cancer patients are more vulnerable to COVID-19?

Date: 04 April 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous


The number of people infected with COVID-19 across the world has now reached a million. Eventhough  people of all age groups are vulnerable to infection from the disease, especially vulnerable are those people who have comorbidities such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer.



For some cancer patients receiving treatment, the global pandemic poses a different set of challenges, even if they do not have COVID-19.



  • A subset of cancer patients are more vulnerable to developing serious illness due to COVID-19. This subset includes people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy, those undergoing radical radiotherapy for lung cancer, people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma.

  • People getting immunotherapy or antibody treatments for cancer, those having other types of targetted cancer treatments which may affect the immune system and cancer patients who have undergone bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last six months or who are still taking immunosuppressive drugs.

  • A cancer patient who is over the age of 60 and has comorbodities such as cardiovascular or respiratory issues will also be especially vulnerable to illness due to COVID-19.

  • Some cancer patients are more vulnerable because of their weakened immune systems. The immune system has an important role to play to fight off infection or repair an injured tissue.

  • With COVID-19 as well, the role of the immune system is to try and fight off the virus. For this to happen, the immune system should not be overstimulated so as to cause hyper inflammation caused when more than necessary number of white blood cells are deployed by the immune system, which can lead to sepsis or even death. The immune system should also not be weak that it is unable to fight off the infection.

  • Some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy might weaken the immune system of the patient, since such treatments can stop the bone marrow from making enough white blood cells. Due to this, the immune system is weakened, reducing the person’s ability to fight off infection.

  • Cancer patients may need to consider if the risks of beginning or continuing their cancer treatment could outweigh the benefits, since patients receiving therapies are more at risk from becoming seriously ill if they were to contract COVID-19. 

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