10 August 2023

Patients with cancer remain at significant risk from COVID – with those with blood cancers at the greatest risk, British researchers have warned.

The pandemic had a significant effect on cancer care globally. Although risk of hospitalisation and death from COVID has fallen over time, those with cancer are still at heightened risk, according to the new study.

Researchers looked at COVID outcomes in cancer patients in England from the start of the pandemic up to August 2022.

They found that the COVID-19 phenotype has become less severe in all patients. The rate of infected cancer patients needing hospitalisation fell from 31% in early 2021 to 7% in 2022, while mortality rates fell from 21% to 3%.

But the risks of hospitalisation and mortality remain 2.1- and 2.5-fold higher, respectively, in patients with cancer compared to those without.

Writing in Scientific Reports, the researchers add: “The most notable subgroups associated with significantly higher risk were individuals with blood cancer (particularly leukaemia), receipt of SACT (cytotoxic therapy, B/T cell antibody, targeted therapy) and stage 4 cancer.”

“Patients with cancer must therefore be empowered to live more normal lives, to see loved ones and families, while also being safeguarded with expanded measures to reduce the risk of transmission,” they conclude.

Lead author Dr Lennard Lee of the University of Birmingham said: “People living with cancer are worried that they have been forgotten. Our work shows that the UK is emerging out of the tunnel of the global pandemic, and we know who are still at the greatest risk of the consequences of COVID-19 infection so that they're not left behind.

“This data is undoubtedly good news for cancer patients, but despite significant falls in hospitalisations and mortality over the years we studied we can still see the additional risk.”


Starkey T, Ionescu MC, Tilby M, Little M, Burke E, Fittall MW, Khan S, Liu JKH, Platt JR, Mew R, Tripathy AR, Watts I, Williams ST, Appanna N, Al-Hajji Y, Barnard M, Benny L, Burnett A, Bytyci J, Cattell EL, Cheng V, Clark JJ, Eastlake L, Gerrand K, Ghafoor Q, Grumett S, Harper-Wynne C, Kahn R, Lee AJX, Lomas O, Lydon A, Mckenzie H; NCRI Consumer Forum; Panneerselvam H, Pascoe JS, Patel G, Patel V, Potter VA, Randle A, Rigg AS, Robinson TM, Roylance R, Roques TW, Rozmanowski S, Roux RL, Shah K, Sheehan R, Sintler M, Swarup S, Taylor H, Tillett T, Tuthill M, Williams S, Ying Y, Beggs A, Iveson T, Lee SM, Middleton G, Middleton M, Protheroe A, Fowler T, Johnson P, Lee LYW. (2023) “A population-scale temporal case-control evaluation of COVID-19 disease phenotype and related outcome rates in patients with cancer in England (UKCCP).” Scientific Reports, doi: 10.1038/S41598-023-36990-9

Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-36990-9

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