Nearly half of UK cancer patients who caught coronavirus died – a much higher rate than counterparts in Europe, a study suggests.
Researchers found that UK patients were less likely to be receiving cancer treatment during the pandemic and less likely to be given the best life-saving therapies once they had caught the virus. The worse death rate also reflects the fact that British cancer sufferers tended to be less fit generally.
The study, published in the European Journal of Cancer, included 1,392 patients from the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Belgium and Germany, tracking their progress between Feb 27 and Sep 10 last year.
It found that, 30 days after a Covid diagnosis, 40.34 per cent of the UK cancer patients had died, with the figure standing at 26.5 per cent of the European patients. After six months, the proportion had risen to 47.6 per cent of the UK cohort compared to 33.3 per cent of the European.
Scientists at Imperial College London pointed to disastrous guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which recommended pausing cancer treatment for many patients in order to stop them catching Covid in hospital.
However, subsequent analysis has shown that people in need of chemotherapy, immunotherapy and surgery fared better on average if they continued with treatment on the normal timetable, even if they caught the virus.
Dr David Pinato, who led the study, said: "This is the first study showing UK cancer patients were more likely to die following a Covid-19 diagnosis compared to European patients.
"We knew the UK had one of the highest deaths rates from Covid-19. However, in addition to this, prior to Covid-19 the UK already lagged behind European nations in terms of cancer care, with the UK having lower survival rates from many cancers compared to many other EU nations.
"We need to now prioritise cancer patients in the UK, as this study suggests they are extremely vulnerable – more so than in many other countries."
The researchers found equal proportions between the UK and EU of complicated Covid cases, rates of intensive care admission and use of ventilation. UK cancer patients were less likely to receive anti-Covid therapies including corticosteroids, antivirals and interleukin-6 antagonists.
Dr Alessio Cortellini, who co-authored the paper, said: "UK cancer patients tended to be older than European patients, were more likely to be male, and have other conditions such as obesity or diabetes. All of these may have contributed to the increased mortality rate, and show why cancer patients should be prioritised for Covid-19 vaccination."