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Clinical trial at Massey to examine outcomes of cancer patients with COVID-19

Massey is one of four cancer centers in Virginia participating in the trial, which will contribute to a deeper understanding of the impacts of infection.

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By Blake Belden

For a number of reasons, cancer patients on active treatment may experience more severe symptoms of COVID-19 and poorer outcomes than the general public. To better understand the impact of COVID-19 on cancer patients, VCU Massey Cancer Center will participate in a nationwide clinical trial funded by the National Cancer Institute. Findings will help guide the clinical treatment of cancer patients with COVID-19 through the course of the pandemic.

Looking for clues to poor COVID-19 outcomes

Common risk factors associated with cancer, such as old age and smoking, correlate to worse outcomes from COVID-19. Cancer patients may also be burdened with suppressed immune systems due to the disease itself or from their treatment, making them more vulnerable to the new coronavirus.

According to a report from the World Health Organization-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019, cancer patients are nearly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as the general population. However, information on how COVID-19 impacts cancer patients is limited, and much of the data is specific to people in China.

Because COVID-19 wasn’t discovered until December 2019, long-term outcomes are unknown for cancer patients as well as the general population. Early reports indicate that prolonged intubation and heavy sedation while on a ventilator could have negative long-term impacts, including lung damage and mental impairment.

COVID-19 and cancer treatment

Cancer patients are at risk of having to stop, alter or delay treatment if they have COVID-19, potentially leading to worse cancer outcomes.

How patients respond to certain Food and Drug Administration-approved immunotherapies for cancer is of particular interest in this study because these drugs are associated with an overreactive immune response called cytokine storm. New data has indicated that cytokine storm is also a common factor in severe cases of COVID-19.

“A larger understanding of the course of COVID-19 infection in cancer patients actively being treated with these immunotherapies could have significant implications for all cancer patients as well as the general population,” said Andrew Poklepovic, M.D., study site principal investigator and medical director of Massey’s Clinical Trials Office.

Massey is one of four cancer centers in Virginia participating in the trial and one of more than 700 study sites in the nation. The goal is to enroll 2,000 patients nationwide in the trial.

For more information

Questions about this clinical trial at Massey should be directed to Robin Toft, study coordinator, at (804) 628-0282 or rtoft@vcu.edu.