POOR outcomes and higher death rates among cancer patients who contract coronavirus could be due to them being generally older and having more underlying conditions, rather than the cancer itself.

The findings of a new study, carried at Jena University Hospital in Germany, could influence guidance on shielding and whether cancer treatments should be paused for certain patients.

Researchers used data from the Lean European Open Survey for SARS-CoV-2 Infected Patients (LEOSS) Registry, which was created to provide scientists and doctors with reliable clinical data about Covid-19 patients.

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They identified 435 patients with cancer and Covid-19 from a total of 3,071 patients enrolled in the registry between March and August this year.

From this they were able to determine the patients' socio-demographic characteristics, co-morbidities, ECOG score (a measure of how normally cancer patients are able to function), and the outcome of their Covid infection.

Most of the patients (37%) were aged 76 to 85, and 41% were female.

More than half (59%) had solid tumours, 18% had a form of lymphoma, and 11% had leukaemia.

A total of 193 patients had an active disease - meaning they were undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy at the time of infection, or had cancer which had relapsed or spread to another part of their body.

A further 96 patients had received anti-cancer treatment within the three months prior to testing positive for Covid.

Overall, 97 of the 435 cancer patients who contracted Covid died, but men were twice as likely to die as women (28% vs 14%).

Mortality was also higher in Covid patients with active than non-active cancer: 27% compared to 17%.

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However, when the researchers compared Covid cancer patients against non-cancer Covid patients from the LEOSS registry they found that overall mortality from the infection was similar.

Non-cancer patients tended to be younger (mostly in the 56-65 age bracket) and had fewer co-morbidities, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and respiratory illnesses.

However, once the researchers adjusted for these differences in age, sex, and co-morbidities between the two groups, survival rates for Covid patients with cancer were in fact comparable to the non-cancer patients.

Oncologist and lead researcher Dr Maria Rüthrich said: "After adjusting for age, sex and co-morbidity, our results show that cancer patients are at higher risk of more serious disease and death due to being generally older than non-cancer patients with Covid-19, and also having more underlying conditions.

"It does not appear to be the cancer itself that is leading to these poor outcomes."

The findings - which have not been peer-reviewed - will be presented this week at the ESCMID Conference on Coronavirus Disease, the first major international conference on the virus, which is being hosted online from today until Friday.