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Cancer survivors have higher odds of dying from seasonal flu, suggesting they may also be at increased risk from COVID-19 and may need to be among the first in line for vaccination against both diseases.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine analyzed medical data from more than 630,000 people in the United Kingdom between 1990 and 2014, including more than 100,000 cancer survivors.
They found that the risk of flu-related hospitalization or death was more than nine times higher among survivors of lymphomas, leukemia and multiple myeloma than among those without cancer. This higher risk lasted for at least 10 years after cancer diagnosis.
The researchers noted that these cancer survivors' absolute risk of severe flu was still relatively low, with about 1 in 1,000 hospitalized with flu each year.
Survivors of other types of cancer had more than double the risk of flu-related hospitalization or death compared to cancer-free people, and the increased risk lasted up to five years after cancer diagnosis.
Seasonal flu and COVID-19 are both epidemic respiratory viruses with broadly similar risk factors, so these findings suggest that cancer survivors are also likely to have an increased risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes, the researchers said.
They also found that cancer survivors were more likely to have other conditions associated with higher odds of severe COVID-19 outcomes, such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and kidney disease.
"We knew that people with cancer are at high risk of severe outcomes from these epidemic viruses soon after diagnosis, but we found that this increased risk also continues for several years after diagnosis," said study co-author and research fellow Helena Carreira.
"This means that vaccination and other preventative strategies are important considerations for the much broader population of longer-term cancer survivors," she said in a university news release.
Senior author Krishnan Bhaskaran said the findings have immediate relevance as winter begins.
"We have a flu vaccine available, and the likelihood of a COVID-19 vaccine in the near future. Understanding how vaccination should be prioritized to protect the most vulnerable will be crucial over the next few months," said Bhaskaran, a professor of statistical epidemiology.
The study was published Nov. 30 in the journal EClinicalMedicine.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has more on cancer survivors and COVID-19.
SOURCE: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, news release, Nov. 30, 2020
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