A new study has shown that patients with cancer in the UK are more likely to die following a COVID-19 diagnosis than cancer patients in Europe.
Cancer patients from the UK are 1.5 times more likely to die following a diagnosis of COVID-19 than cancer patients from European countries according to a new study of over 1000 patients led by Imperial College London during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 924 of the patients were from Europe and 468 were from the UK.
Poor care in the United Kingdom
The study tracked data between 27 February to 10 September 2020, across 27 centres in six countries, including Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, and the UK. The results showed that 30 days after a COVID-19 diagnosis, 40.38% of UK cancer patients had died, versus 26.5% of European patients. Six months after a COVID-19 diagnosis, 47.64% of UK cancer patients had died, compared to 33.33% of European patients.
Dr David Pinato, lead author of the study from Imperial’s Department of Surgery and Cancer, said: “This is the first study showing UK cancer patients were more likely to die following a COVID-19 diagnosis compared to European patients. We knew the UK had one of the highest deaths rates from COVID-19.
“However, in addition to this, prior to COVID the UK already lagged behind European nations in terms of cancer care, with the UK having lower survival rates from many cancers compared to many other EU nations. We need to now prioritise cancer patients in the UK, as this study suggests they are extremely vulnerable – more so than in many other countries.”
The study found that UK patients were less likely to be receiving cancer treatment at the time of COVID-19 diagnosis, compared to European patients, most likely due to UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance. This guidance recommended pausing cancer treatment during the first wave of COVID-19 in the UK, due to concerns cancer treatment would increase risk of COVID-19. However, the study found pausing treatment did not affect risk of death following COVID-19 diagnosis.
It was found that UK cancer patients were less likely to receive anti-COVID-19 therapies including corticosteroids, anti-virals, and interleukin-6 antagonists.
The study team added that UK cancer patients tended to be frailer than European cancer patients, which may have led to the increased death rates following a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Dr Alessio Cortellini, co-author of the paper from the Department of Surgery and Cancer, added: “UK cancer patients tended to be older than European patients, were more likely to be male, and have other conditions such as obesity or diabetes. All of these may have contributed to the increased mortality rate and show why cancer patients should be prioritised for COVID-19 vaccination.”