The severity of COVID-19 is higher in cancer patients in men compared to women

A research team from the University of Kansas Cancer Center found that men with cancer and COVID-19 could have a significantly higher risk of severe symptoms or even death compared to women struggling with both.

Anup Kasi, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of oncology at the University of Kansas Medical Center and The University of Kansas Cancer Center, and his team analyzed information from several studies involving both cancer patients and COVID-19.

The chances of male cancer patients who have suffered severe illness or death from COVID-19 are 60 percent higher compared to patients, according to their research.

Knowing this tendency to perform worse in men with COVID-19 and cancer will help physicians make better decisions about caring for them in clinical settings.. “

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

About the study

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

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

“We were particularly pleased that ESMO highlighted our study to raise awareness among the cancer community,” Kasi said. “Both ESMO and The Lancet are selective in what they choose to share.”

The research team has collected 17 different studies on COVID-19 and cancer since COVID-19 first appeared in June 2020. They searched databases of medical publications and online conference proceedings to study a total of 3,968 patients who fought COVID-19 and cancer.

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

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

It builds on previous research

In studies prior to this, other researchers reported higher mortality in men who received COVID-19. In fact, China, Italy and Ireland reported that men accounted for 70 percent of all COVID-19 deaths.

Do these gender differences also apply to cancer patients? “We didn’t know if the same gender differences in severity risk would continue to apply or not,” Kasi said.

This is because cancer and the impact of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted therapy may have drastically changed this “gender factor”. Instead, they found that the rate of severe symptoms and deaths in cancer patients was comparable to the general population.

Local cohort

Within days of publishing 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 the patient pool to study, they 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 Cancer Center of the University of Kansas.

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

At the KU Cancer Center, patients could register in three different registries, including:

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

Larger cohort

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

The study included 928 patients from the United States, Canada, and Spain, and included Kasi and Wulff-Burchfield.

It also showed higher mortality rates for men fighting cancer and COVID-19 compared to women, although its focus was broader than the EClinical Medicine KU Cancer Center study and included gender differences as one of many factors studied.

“Data on risk factors for COVID-19 in both the general population and the cancer patient population are still evolving,” Kasi said. “The report, however, is that the male sex may be a potential risk factor in a population of cancer patients for poor outcomes with COVID-19 infections.”


University of Kansas Cancer Center

Journal link:

Park, R., et al. (2020) Gender bias in the severity and mortality of COVID-19-related diseases in cancer patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical medicine.

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