21 December 2020

Children with cancer are at no greater risk of severe COVID-19, a new study has found.

"The results are reassuring to parents around the country that children with cancer are at no greater risk of developing serious symptoms of COVID-19 than other children”, said lead author, Dr Gerald Millen, of the University of Birmingham, UK.

Children with cancer often need intensive treatment that can leave them severely immunocompromised, potentially putting them at increased risk of COVID-19.  

Previous studies have suggested that adult cancer patients are more likely to suffer from severe COVID-19 infection, but it was not clear whether this was also the case for children.

This prompted Dr Millen, and colleagues to establish the UK Paediatric Coronavirus Monitoring Project. All children with cancer under 16 years are treated at one of 20 specialist cancer centres in the UK. This allowed the team to gather details on all children attending for treatment.

They tested all children attending treatment for COVID-19, and identified 54 confirmed cases between March and July 2020. Of these, 15 children (28%) were asymptomatic, 34 children (63%) had mild infection, and five children (10%) had moderate, severe or critical infections. None of the children died, and only three needed intensive care.

Writing in the British Journal of Cancer earlier this month, the authors say: “Children with cancer with SARS-CoV-2 infection do not appear at increased risk of severe infection compared to the general paediatric population. This is reassuring and supports the continued delivery of standard treatment.”

Senior author, Professor Pam Kearns added: “This project has been critical in allowing clinicians to analyse real-time data and provide evidence to reassure families of vulnerable children and young people with cancer.”

Commenting on the study, Ashley Gamble of the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group said: “This has allowed us to provide evidence-based guidance to support parents and families of children with cancer to assess their risks and make informed decisions about family life during the pandemic, including supporting children, where appropriate, to stop shielding where the risks are lower than originally thought, and return to school to minimise the impact on their education.”


Millen GC, Arnold R, Cazier JB, Curley H, Feltbower RG, Gamble A, Glaser AW, Grundy RG, Lee LYW, McCabe MG, Phillips RS, Stiller CA, Várnai C, Kearns PR (2020) “Severity of COVID-19 in children with cancer: Report from the United Kingdom Paediatric Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring Project .” British Journal of Cancer, doi: 10.1038/s41416-020-01181-0

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