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Among people with cancer, people diagnosed with COVID-19 were more likely to be Black, have active cancer, have chronic conditions and live in zip codes with median household incomes below $30,000, according to a new study coauthored by two Advocate Aurora Health oncologists.

A comparison between those with and without a COVID-19 diagnosis among people with cancer showed patients with COVID-19 had greater frequency of death due to any cause (14% vs. 2%), hospital admission (64% vs. 14%) and invasive respiratory support (11% vs. 1%).

The researchers recently published their findings in the journal Cancer Reports.

“Our study demonstrates that some patients with cancer are more vulnerable to the debilitating and deadly effects of COVID-19,” said Michael Thompson, MD, PhD, study coauthor and Advocate Aurora Research Institute investigator. “Further, it shows that researchers can rapidly leverage real-world data to better understand this pandemic virus and help understand issues of access and other determinants of health.”

James Weese, MD, vice president of Aurora Cancer Services, also coauthored the study.

The researchers used de-identified patient health information from two Midwestern community health systems – Advocate Aurora Health in Illinois and Wisconsin, and Henry Ford Cancer Institute, part of Henry Ford Health System in Michigan. The study identified 146,702 patients with cancer, among whom 1,267 were diagnosed with COVID-19 between February and July 2020.

“Before now, much of our data characterizing COVID-19 in patients with cancer was limited to voluntary registries or surveys,” Dr. Thompson said.

This large data set of Midwestern cancer patients can be compared over time for more insights about the effects of COVID-19 on this population, or the data can be similarly implemented to the study of other infectious diseases and health problems.

The researchers state more research is needed to establish the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic felt disproportionately in underrepresented populations and among people of color.

“The medical community has already come to understand just how much social determinants of health affect COVID-19 diagnoses and outcomes,” said Amit Acharya, PhD, chief research officer and system vice president for Advocate Aurora and the Research Institute. “This collaborative work from Drs. Thompson and Weese moves the research forward by highlighting the interplay between social and biological determinants, a cancer diagnosis and COVID-19.”

Jennifer Godden, PharmD, co-director of Advocate Aurora’s Oncology Precision Medicine Clinic along with Dr. Thompson, contributed to the study, as did researchers from Syapse in San Francisco and Oncology Center of Excellence, part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in Silver Spring, Maryland.