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Prevalence of COVID-19-related risk factors and risk of severe influenza outcomes in cancer survivors: a matched cohort study using linked English electronic health records data

By Helena Carreira, Helen Strongman, Maria Peppa, Helen I McDonald, Isabel dos-Santos-Silva, Susannah Stanway, Liam Smeeth, Krishnan Bhaskaran

Posted 12 Oct 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.08.20209304

BackgroundPeople with active cancer are recognised as at risk of COVID-19 complications, but it is unclear whether the much larger population of cancer survivors is at elevated risk. We aimed to address this by comparing cancer survivors and cancer-free controls for (i) prevalence of comorbidities considered risk factors for COVID-19; and (ii) risk of severe influenza, as a marker of susceptibility to severe outcomes from epidemic respiratory viruses. MethodsWe included survivors ([≥]1 year) of the 20 most common cancers, and age, sex and general practice-matched cancer-free controls, derived from UK primary care data linked to cancer registrations, hospital admissions and death registrations. Comorbidity prevalences were calculated 1 and 5 years from cancer diagnosis. Risk of hospitalisation or death due to influenza was compared using Cox models adjusted for baseline demographics and comorbidities. Findings108,215 cancer survivors and 523,541 cancer-free controls were included. Cancer survivors had more asthma, other respiratory, cardiac, diabetes, neurological, renal, and liver disease, and less obesity, compared with controls, but there was variation by cancer site. There were 205 influenza hospitalisations/deaths, with cancer survivors at higher risk than controls (adjusted HR 2.78, 95% CI 2.04-3.80). Haematological cancer survivors had large elevated risks persisting for >10 years (HR overall 15.17, 7.84-29.35; HR >10 years from cancer diagnosis 10.06, 2.47-40.93). Survivors of other cancers had evidence of raised risk up to 5 years from cancer diagnosis only (HR 2.22, 1.31-3.74). InterpretationRisks of severe COVID-19 outcomes are likely to be elevated in cancer survivors. This should be taken into account in policies targeted at clinical risk groups, and vaccination for both influenza, and, when available, COVID-19, should be encouraged in cancer survivors. FundingWellcome Trust, Royal Society, NIHR. Research in contextO_ST_ABSEvidence before this studyC_ST_ABSFew data are available to date on how COVID-19 affects cancer survivors. We searched PubMed with the keywords "influenza cancer survivors" to identify studies that compared severe influenza outcomes in cancer survivors and in a control group. No study was identified. Added value of this studyIn this matched cohort study of routinely collected electronic health records, we demonstrated raised risks of influenza hospitalisation or mortality in survivors from haematological malignancies for >10 years after diagnosis, and in survivors from solid cancers up to 5 years after diagnosis. Implications of all the available evidenceCancer survivorship appears to be an important risk factor for severe influenza outcomes, suggesting that cancer survivors may also be at raised risk of poor COVID-19 outcomes. This should be taken into account in public health policies targeted at protecting clinical risk groups. Influenza vaccination should be encouraged in this group, and may need to be extended to a wider population of medium- to long-term cancer survivors than currently recommended.

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