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WellSpan participates in research into COVID-19's effects on cancer patients

June 18, 2020

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WellSpan participates in research into COVID-19's effects on cancer patients

In an effort to better understand COVID-19, WellSpan Health is working in conjunction with more than one hundred other health institutions to study COVID-19's effects on cancer patients. WellSpan was among the earliest institutions to join the group.

The COVID-19 & Cancer Consortium (CCC19), a grassroots group founded through social media, recently looked at data on a registry of 928 adult COVID-19 patients across the United States, Canada and Spain, who also had active or previous malignancies. The study found that 13 percent of those patients died within 30 days of diagnosis. The results were recently published in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

"Right now, our biggest enemy is that we don't know our enemy very well, which is COVID-19," said Robert Rice, M.D., medical director, WellSpan Cancer Centers. "The information being shared in this consortium will allow us at WellSpan to better understand this disease, and ultimately develop better treatments for our patients."

The study also found that male patients with other risk factors, like older age, had an increased risk of death. Race, ethnicity, obesity, as well as the types of cancer, cancer treatment or recent surgery did not seem to increase the risk of mortality.

"This research is giving our care teams here at WellSpan a wealth of new information about the effects of COVID-19 on cancer patients," said Ikechukwu Akunyili, M.D., medical oncologist at WellSpan Adams Cancer Center. "We have learned so much about COVID-19 since it first developed, but there is still so much more we need to understand. The more research that is done on its effects on cancer patients, the better care we can provide those patients."

At least 23 WellSpan Health patients from York, Gettysburg, Lebanon and Ephrata are currently enrolled in the CCC19 registry.

A second, complimentary study will look at patients who are receiving cancer treatments and have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Patients will be followed for up to two years to help doctors understand how cancer affects COVID-19 and COVID-19 affects cancer.

"With information brings us knowledge. And with knowledge, brings us a better ability to help our communities with this crisis," said Akunyili, who will serve as WellSpan's principal investigator for the second study. "This is how we’re going to improve upon the already cutting-edge care for our patients in this new normal that we’re going through right now."

There are currently 108 institutions across the country who have joined with CCC19, identifying and reporting all COVID-19 cases in patients with a current or prior history of malignancy.

"WellSpan wants to work as one with everyone in this fight against COVID-19," said Rice. "This disease does not recognize boundaries, whether it's state, local or international. So, we are all in this together."