Chemotherapy lowers immunity, ups Covid infection risk: Experts

By Vivek Singh Chauhan

New Delhi: The impact of the pandemic has been disastrous for many, including cancer patients, as health experts on Thursday stressed that chemotherapy treatment decreases the immunity level of the patient by lowering white blood cells (WBC) count, which makes the patient more susceptible to infection from Covid-19.

According to experts, immunity plays a strong role in coping with such viruses or diseases as it produces antibodies to kill pathogens.

“Chemotherapy process decreases the immunity level of the patient by lowering white blood cells count. And with low white blood cells count severe infection can affect the patient more severely and add to the challenges,” Deni Gupta, Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology, Narayana Hospital Gurugram, told IANS on the occasion of World Cancer Day that is observed on February 4.

A study, presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology Virtual Congress 2020, analysed 3,600 patients from 122 institutions and found that 30-day mortality was highest among the cancer patients treated one to three months prior to Covid-19 diagnosis and was highest for those treated with a chemotherapy/immunotherapy combination.

“Basically patients undergoing chemotherapy are more immunity compromised and prone to catch severe infections from viruses like Covid-19. In process, the treatment can also be affected and severity of cancer, co-morbidities and other infections can increase,” said Kumardeep Dutta, Choudhary, Senior Consultant, MD, DNB, Medical Oncology, Action Cancer Hospital, New Delhi.

Patients with active haematologic or lung malignancies, peri-Covid-19 lymphopenia, or baseline neutropenia may have the worse Covid-19 outcomes.

“Although it depends on stages and cases, but Covid-19 can potentially affect the patients suffering from haematological cancers and those who are receiving a dose of dense chemotherapy. Because of low blood count it can make it harder for a patient to fight against the infection,” Dutta said.

“In many cases, Covid-19 is leaving long term effects on patients, like pulmonary fibrosis, lower capability of lungs and other irreversible issues. Also, it is not a mere respiratory infection, it affects blood vessels also which may lead to other blood vessels related issues as well,” Dutta added.

The experts also stressed that cancer patients should follow all the Covid-19 protocols and should never leave the treatment in between as it can make the disease more dangerous.

“Cancer patients have a high mortality from the rest of the population so they need to be more careful,” said Rahul Bhargava, Director, Department of Clinical Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.

“They have to adopt all these strategies of social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing a mask because we know from our general population point of view we have mortality of 1.4 percent,” Bhargava added.


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