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COVID-19 severity is increased in male most cancers sufferers in comparison with females

Men with cancer and COVID-19 may have a significantly higher risk of severe symptoms and even death than women battling both, a research team at the University of Kansas Cancer Center found.

Anup Kasi, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Oncology at the University of Kansas Medical Center and the University of Kansas Cancer Center, and his team analyzed information from multiple studies of patients with cancer and COVID-19.

Male cancer patients are 60 percent more likely to have serious illness or death from COVID-19 than female patients.

Knowing this propensity for poorer outcomes in men with COVID-19 and cancer can help doctors make better decisions when cared for in a clinical setting. “

Anup Kasi, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor, Oncology, University of Kansas Medical Center

About the study

The news was originally published in EClinical Medicine, a clinical journal published online by The Lancet. The Lancet, a prestigious international weekly medical journal, then published an updated version of the study in its collection of articles, “Gender Equality and Health”.

Doctors also learned about the study results through medical news sites such as ESMO, Medwire, and Medicine Matters.

“We were especially happy that ESMO highlighted our cancer community awareness study,” said Kasi. “Both ESMO and The Lancet are selective about what to share.”

The research team collected 17 different studies of COVID-19 and cancer from the time COVID-19 first appeared through June 2020. It searched databases and procedures for medical publications from online conferences to examine a total of 3,968 patients who had both COVID -19 and fought cancer.

In addition to Kasi, the research team at the University of Kansas Cancer Center included:

  • Kathan Mehta, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Oncology
  • Weijing Sun, MD, FACP, Professor and Head of Oncology
  • Elizabeth Wulff-Burchfield, MD, Assistant Professor of Oncology

Building on previous research

In previous studies, other researchers had found a higher death rate in men who contracted COVID-19. In fact, China, Italy and Ireland reported that 70 percent of all COVID-19 deaths were from men.

Would such gender-specific differences also apply to cancer patients? “We didn’t know whether the same gender differences in severity risk would still exist or not,” said Kasi.

This is because cancer and the effects of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy could have dramatically changed this “sex factor”. Instead, they found that the incidence of severe symptoms and deaths in male cancer patients was comparable to that of the general population.

Local cohort

Within days of the publication of EClinical Medicine, Kasi and Mehta presented related information at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Instead of looking far and wide for a patient pool to study, the two looked closer to home. They analyzed factors that could contribute to the severity of COVID-19 symptoms in cancer patients, using only patients from the University of Kansas Cancer Center.

These patients were asked to join a list of cancer patients in the United States who contracted COVID-19. These lists, called registers, were created to help researchers identify trends and treatments for this unique population battling a very new virus.

At the KU Cancer Center, patients were able to register for three different registries, including:

  • COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium (CCC19)
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Register
  • National Cancer Institute COVID-19 in Cancer Patient Study (NCCAPS)

Larger cohort

The University of Kansas cancer patients who chose the CCC-19 registry were also included in a larger study of the effects of COVID-19 on cancer patients published three months earlier.

This study included 928 patients from the USA, Canada and Spain with Kasi and Wulff-Burchfield as authors.

It also showed a higher mortality rate in men battling cancer and COVID-19 compared to women, although its focus was broader than the KU Cancer Center’s EClinical Medicine study and included gender differences as just one of many factors examined.

“The data behind the risk factors for COVID-19 in the general population as well as in the cancer patient population continues to evolve,” Kasi said. “But the takeaway message is that male gender may be a potential risk factor in the cancer patient population for poor outcomes with COVID-19 infections.”


University of Kansas Cancer Center

Journal reference:

Park, R. et al. (2020) Sexual Biases in COVID-19 Associated Severity and Mortality in Cancer Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. EClinical Medicine. doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2020.100519.

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